site home site map letters August 2000 email

Letters to the Editor, August 2000

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 May 2000.

I have been receiving quite a bit of peculiar because the mutant watch page has a link to my Are mutations harmful? page. I have gathered them together in their own page.

Index of contributors

Other Correspondence Pages

From: Paul
Date: 8/29/2000
Subj: Looking For Ryans Steak House Story

I think you wrote a story about an odd experience in the restroom at a Ryan's Steakhouse. I can't seem to find the article in your website. Can you send me the link ?

Believe me, I didn't write it. I don't know the true author is; it was, you should excuse the expression, passed on to me.

Return to index of contributors

From: eugenics
Date: 8/29/2000
Subj: hi

just wanted to tell you I thought your website is pretty cool.

Gracias. Coolness is an accidental byproduct. A byproduct of what, I don't know.
Return to index of contributors

From: Jim Cronfel
Date: 7/24/2000
Subj: how is it that a skeptic can be sure that it was a hoax you dumb ass?

Well you didn't write anything in the message but the subject line says it all. You raise a good question: How can an ignorant jerk recognize a hoax when he sees one? Write again when you figure it out.

... continued on next rock ...

You entire web page is based on nothing but blind faith.

Which web page are you speaking of? I have several hundred of them at my site; they vary widely from humor to serious essays to fiction to things that are simply rather strange.
Skepticism inhearently denies all basis of the concept of "undeniable truth". When you keep insisting that the scientific method is supierior to religion, you are insiting that the philosophy of insistant doubt of any truth prove something more true than a religion that clings to a philosophy of the concept of undeniable truth.
You're babbling. You also have trouble with your spelling. This may be because you are excited and aren't spelling (or thinking) too clearly.

The skepticism that you describe is neither ordinary skepticism nor is it "the scientific method". It may be philosophical nihilism but one really doesn't know; it does have the look, the feel, and the aroma of straw. BTW, where was I insisting that the scientific method is superior to religion? I'm curious as to what your basis for your statement was.

Be that as it may the concept of undeniable truth has fallen on hard times. Various religions have relied on revelation which in principle is certain; alas, there is the difficulty that there are many revelations, often quite contradictory. Sundry philosophers have attempted to establish or assert undeniable truth by recondite arguments. The results, whilst satisfactory to their authors, are regularly demolished by their fellows. I do not think, however, that the travails of "undeniable truth" have much to do with science except by comparison.

Granted, science does not deal in undeniable truth; it deals in the more worldly and more modest "true to the best of our knowledge". A discussion of the notion of truth as it used in science is beyond the scope of this letter; if that is your interest you might read some of the philosophers of science such as Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn, and Kitchner.

Therefore you disprove that there was any hoax in the same fell swoop that you disprove what you think is the blind stupidity of creationism.
Your argument addresses a strawman argument rather than any thing I have said. However it fails on its own terms. Your strawman can still recognize falsity even if he is unclear about what is true.
In otherwords I'm sure you can see that I'm reversing the age old apologetic to show that not only do you deny yourself any reason for being a scientist, but you deny yourself the right to claim that your web page is correct about there being a hoax at all.

If in two hundred years it is discovered that it was not a hoax will that be a statment of faith or a statement of "science that always comes out right unlike religion"?

It is unlikely that you or I will be around in two hundred years so we shall not know. However I submit that it is most unlikely that it will be discovered to not be a hoax for much the same reasons that it is unlikely that Omaha is the capital of the United States. Be that as it may your rather bizarre dichotomy is a false dichotomy. The "statement of faith" branch is simply weird whereas the "science that always comes out right unlike religion" is a misrepresentation of science (but equally weird). If at some point in the future we discover that Omaha is the capital of the US despite what we hear from the talking heads on TV about Washington then the conclusion would be "We were wrong about Washington being the capital of the US".
Therefore Augustine proves that both science and religion are based on courageous faith as Paul Tillich would put it.
Now this is seriously wrong. There is a minimal metaphysics underpinning science but it is not far distant from the metaphysics that people take for granted whilst they conduct their ordinary affairs. You can call the use and acceptance of that metaphysics a matter of faith if you like but that "faith" is a quite different thing from the "courageous faith" that Tillich speaks of. It is a little odd to speak of Augustine proving anything about science since the entire enterprise of science did not come into being until upwards of a thousand years after have Augustine lived and wrote.

... continued on next rock ...

Thank you for sobering me up to your slumbering. You refer to the ordinary everyday metaphysics of science as opposed to what you blindly assume is the blind faith of religion.

Your rhetoric (what you blindly assume is the blind faith of religion) gains in force what it lacks in precision. I said nothing about "the blind faith of religion" nor did I oppose religious faith to the "everyday metaphysics of science". Your persistence in inventing positions for me would be commendable if it were not so pernicious.
Mysticism can be logically and observationally and socially confirmed and accepted.
The term, mysticism, covers a great deal of territory. There are pre-Christian mystics, a tradition of Christian mysticism, likewise one Judaic mysticism, at least two distinct Islamic traditions, at least two Buddhist traditions, Hinduism, and Taoism, just to mention a few. Moreover there is a great deal of variety of experiences that are called mystic experiences. I mention this only because one might wonder what you were referring to when you use the word "mysticism".

It is odd, to say the least, to use the word "logically" in connection with mysticism.

Do you still support Ptolemy's version of planetary orbits? Do you still support Flat Earth Theory?
Why, no. Does your rather odd question have a point?
These are your fine more reasonable scientific examples that you have to rally against the blind excited misspelled faith of Creationism that I apparently posses.
I dunno, do you possess a faith of Creationism? I haven't the vaguest idea what these "fine more reasonable scientific examples" that I am supposed to rally might be.
Let me ask you this question: If the shortest distance between two points on a plane is a line, and the shortest distance between two points on a globe is an arc, isn't it obvious to even you that the theory of randomness fails to necessarily satisfy the shortest distance between two points in the third dimension?
I'm sorry, not only is it not obvious, it isn't at all clear what you are talking about. As a small bit of pedantry I will point out that theories and lines are two different kinds of things. It should be obvious that a random path is seldom the shortest distance to anywhere.

I am guessing that you have an analogy in mind. The usual one involving dimensions is that worldly is two dimensional and transcendental knowledge is needed to access the third dimension. I'm guessing that your notion is that randomness is constrained to two dimensions and thus never gets to "the truth" whereas straight lines can cut through the third dimension to get straight to "the truth".

This is mere conjecture on my part; I freely admit that I might have completely missed the point of your little exercise. I suggest that you work on it a bit before palming it off on some other hapless reader.

That is, randomness is not superior to the straight line nor the arc because it does not force us to accept a third dimension. Randomness and Buddist Luck are both shortest distances stuck in the second dimension. The third dimension is not required for either of them to be true. But you slumber to much to even understand why Hiesenburg fails us so miserably don't you?
Buddhist Luck!? How charming. I wonder what that might supposed to be. Poor Heisenberg - he gets blamed for so many things. I didn't know that we were relying on him but apparently we were and he has failed us miserably. Bad Heisenberg.
Therefore the shortest distance in the third dimension requires esoteric geometry that only mystcism and miricals and faith and religion can fill.
An esoteric geometry indeed. The ancients spoke of geometry as a royal road to knowledge; your geometry seems to be a royal road to confusion.
Return to index of contributors

From: Jim Cronfel
Date: 8/2/2000
Subj: you are kind of funny, there is a stage leaving in five minutes...

Do you have any idea what Continuos Creation is? It is the theological principal that the Lord Jesus didn't just create Creation in its entirety at one fixed point in time and in fact he does a whole lot more than sustain it through out time. It is the metaphysical principal that he creates energy, mass, and light, and time as it seems to unfold to us finite creatures in our present tense.

Yes, I'm familiar with the proposition. It's a notion with serious theological problems. Briefly, if God is continually creating the universe in time then he is also creating us in time. Since we have free will we are, in effect, dictating to God what creation is, i.e., God is letting us use Him as the instrument of our creation.
Deists can't say a damn thing to that. Clearly the present tense Logos is something that the Lord Jesus manipulates and real time from a timeless heaven. This is because he is still creating it. Hence your theories of randomness v. Logos that you think protects you from Judgment are impotent. Randomness and luck are finite blindness to Omnipotent Intelligence. Randomness and luck are static and cannot create or even sustain themselves.
Er, I don't think that my theories protect me from Judgment. If, as seems most unlikely, there is a Judgment, nothing will protect me from it. On the the other hand, as seems almost certain, Judgment is one of the many superstitions that humanity has saddled itself with, then I am protected against it by its nonexistence.
In hopes that you aren't found reprobate,
Return to index of contributors

From: Jim Cronfel
Date: 8/2/2000
Subj: I've been to the Wild Onion

So you've been to the Wild Onion. How are your eardrums?

Atheist poetry is mere fetish.

I can't argue with that.
I guess all things are mere fetish to the writer of Ecclesiastics. Except for the fact that he insists that there are absolutes. That reminds me again about my first e-mail to you that you keep conveniently dodging-- Mr. Philosophy, Math and Science, how does a dumb ass like you know for sure that I misspeeeleeeedd any of my worrrrds?

If you can't answer this question then please remove all of you web pages that argue that there is no such thing as absolute truth.

How do I know that you misspelled your words? I looked them up in a dictionary. (I didn't actually, but I could have. It's the principle of the thing, you know.) Correct spelling is, after all, a matter of social agreement.

By the way, what pages of mine argue that there is no such thing as absolute truth?

Losing hope for you,
I'm crushed.
Return to index of contributors

From: Jim Cronfel
Date: 8/3/2000
Subj: Your essay on Lakatos was anti-climatic as was expected

I seem to recall that I suggested that you read Lakatos (and Popper and a few other chaps) if you wanted to know something about the philosophy of science. I am much too modest to suggest that you read what I have to say. On the other hand you could do worse. Judging from what you write you have done worse.
True science is predestined revealed knowledge. "Next time you speak have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener,"-- Steve Martin.
The nice thing about True Science is that it doesn't have to be true because it is True.
It is an interesting exercise to continually doubt as much as can be doubted. I'm sure that such anti-climatic atheist laughing and babbling and be exciting enough to cause a misspelled word: "Thus, some philosophers have drawn the line by saying 'a statement constitutes knowledge if sufficiently many people believe it sufficingly [sic] strongly.'"
Points for you - you caught a typo. Points for me - it's" anticlimactic" with no hyphen and a 'c' that you consistently omit. Now we're even. [note: the typo in question has been corrected]
Does it irritate you so much that I am sure of what I know? That I see the forrest through the trees that you don't? Is your life so intelligent that you don't have to be reasonable?
It doesn't irritate me - it saddens me. There are so many people like you, people that are sure of what they know. They "know" all sorts of different things but they're very sure about of what they know. Our species has had a long and bloody history; a good part of that blood has been spilled by people who were sure of what they know. It saddens me that human beings are so ready to substitute certain knowledge for truth.

You wish to contrast intelligence and reasonableness. The trouble is that you are on the side of unreasonableness. You are, moreover, a thief, not of money but of names for you wish to steal the name of science and, having stolen it, use it as a mask for your "knowledge".

Mel Brooks called his portrayal of Socrates as the "Bullshit Artist." And so who wins the argument--the intelligent or the reasonable? And can reason be defined: Love thy neighbor as thyself? And was and is E=mc2 the domain of intelligence or reason?

Clearly Evolution and randomness is the intelligent argument that all of existence is intelligent and unreasonable. And Creation is the argument that all of existence is both reasonable and intelligent at once.

Hence Creation is true science--it is revealed knowlege because reason must be revealed but inteligence can only be manipulation and cannot generate anything at all. All of the actions of inteligence are determined by the predestined morality of the Holy Spirit.

Isn't the entire assumption of the Human Genome Project deterministic set-in-stone science?

You can't hear laughing from Hume's grave in the each morning because the dew muffles the sound.
Nice line.
Climactically yours,
You slipped and spelled it correctly. Shame on you.
Return to index of contributors

From: Rebecca Pennington
Date: 8/25/2000
Subj: One of them

i`am one of them i live on 56 rebel road london,ky 40744

That's nice. Please don't tell me that you think you are a mutant. I don't think I could bear it.
Return to index of contributors

From: "BonnieP"
Date: 8/25/2000
Subj: greetings

Hello from the Netherlands,

I would really like to get in touch with Larry Goldberg. I've been a fan of his for years, but unfortunately we've never met. I lived in NYC in the 70s & ate at Goldberg's Pizza quite often.

Can you help me find Larry?

I'm sorry but I can't do much. His recipe is one of those things that circulates. I got it from a newspaper column about 25 years ago. You never can tell, though. Maybe somebody passing through my site will know.
Return to index of contributors
From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 8/25/2000
wrt Charles Thompson

Have you seen the recent news bits about a team of tractor dancers in Iowa? Apparently they've revived a stunt salesmen used to pull for what would now be a hopelessly tiny tractor but was then the coming thing: squaredancing! (Although I doubt the salesmen went as far as the current group, where half the members are in massive drag.)

I saw that. I'm not sure I can deal with the concept. One of the odd things about America is the mania for re-enactment of the past. Maybe it has to do with the pace of change in the past century. The continuity of our lives erodes out from under us.
Return to index of contributors
From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 8/25/2000

You were a little too merciful to this twit; aside from the fact that he probably hasn't seen much 7th-grade work to compare yours to, he committed an error (plural subject, singular verb) that my 7th-grade teacher would have taken points off for.

I noticed that. I thought it would have been petty to point it out. I had the impression that he thought good writing should be stuffy.
Return to index of contributors
From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 8/25/2000
gold urinals

That was probably moldy when it was stolen by a writer for the 1976 Law School show....

I wouldn't be surprised; a lot of jokes have an ancient history. Didn't Connecticut Yankee have our hero complaining about the antiquity of "We almost laughed" joke? In putting up jokes one has to ask: Is it is so stale that it is fresh again? With jokes it is like recovering your virginity in your old age.

... continued on next rock ...

I suppose. Then of course there are the Childe collectors: how many variations of "wrong hole" are there, and how old is the oldest one?

Childe collectors?? This is a new one on me. What are Childe collectors?

... continued on next rock ...

A long-distance cross-reference. Childe (sp?) collected and numbered ballads. (IIRC, the numbers are in order of discovery, rather than categorical like LC or Dewey book numbers.) Most original texts (i.e., not the ones written by Bob Johnson or other modern recollectors of old styles) now have a Childe number; newly-discovered texts are cross-referenced to existing numbers, or filed as variants instead of being given their own numbers. (Childe has made his own way into ]folklore[; see the Captain Cully section of THE LAST UNICORN.)

I'm sure somebody has gotten around to cataloging & classifying jokes (cf the prison-jokebook joke); I just don't know the name.

Oh, that Childe. I knew that he collected ballads and that they were referred to by number but I didn't know about the sub numbering. For jokes I imagine the equivalent is Joe Miller's joke book but I don't know if there really is such a thing.
Return to index of contributors

From: Dan Rodda
Date: 8/24/2000
Subj: Your web site

I found your web site reasearching Patrick Henry! I am also a former Marine. I was in from 3-71 to 3-77. Got out E-6 with a year in grade. Best thing that could have happened FOR me. Was passed over for a job promotion because I thought too short tp command the respect of others under me! Joined ASAP to prove something to myself. It worked very well. Enjoyed your story very much.

Thanks for writing. I think most people who have been in the Corps will tell you that it was one of the best things that ever happened to them.
Return to index of contributors

From: Micawber
Date: 4/3/2000
Subj: Piltdown

"People believe lies not because the lies are plausible but because they want to believe them, so their credulity is unshaken" Malcolm Muggeridge.

That's true enough. What is more Muggeridge spoke with authority, being a rather credulous man himself.

(According to the header this was sent April 3, 2000. None-the-less it arrived August 26, 2000. Apparently email can be even slower than snail mail.)

... continued on next rock ...

Thank you for your reply re Muggeridge, or St. Mugg as he is affectionately remembered in England. I am surprised you consider him to have been credulous, I have read everything MM wrote and I think the only things in which he believed were God, Love and the sanctity of life. In the Thirties he was the first and one of the few to blow the whistle on Stalin and his loathsome regime. For this he was excoriated by the liberal press both in Europe and the U.S.A. Alas, the intellectuals of that age sucked up to Uncle Joe and most of them, including Bernard Shaw, H.G.Wells and the Webbs, had their lips firmly and permanently glued to Stalin's arse., richly deserving Lenin's description of them as "useful idiots". He had to wait twenty years for Kruschev to prove him right. Needless to say, nobody apologised for labelling him a fascist nor did any of them think any the less of Shaw et al for insisting that Stalin was the greatest thing since Christ. You may not have read much by M.M. I can recommend Chronicles of Wasted Time { his memoir}; The Thirties [ called by Orwell { his great friend } " Ecclesiasties without God" ] or, Winter in Moscow based on his two year sojourn in the Soviet Union. This book is credited with convincing the then President not to recognise the Soviet Union. I am sending you a piece he once wrote The Great Liberal Death Wish. You may find it interesting.

I shall admit that my comment re Muggeridge was a bit of a cheap shot.

Thanks for sending be a copy of "The Great Liberal Death Wish". It is, perhaps, representative of his writing and his thinking which, in my perhaps not so humble opinion, is flawed in many respects - his thinking, that is, rather than his writing. His style is excellent.

I will make a few comments on it.

I will first note an error of fact. I quote: "It was, of course, Darwin's theory of Natural Selection which first popularised the notion that Man and his environment are involved in an endless and automatic process of improvement". Insofar as there was a gospel of progress its genesis lies far earlier and is a far broader intellectual movement that Darwin's theory of evolution and its immediate aftermath. Further, M.M.'s representation of evolution has very little to do with Darwin's actual theory.

The reification of "liberalism" necessarily leads to muddled thinking - necessarily because the deed cannot be done without brutal reductionism.

More importantly the essence of his claims, stripped of the rhetorical flourishes, is the ancient argument that skeptics undermine the moral order, that the received religion is necessary for ethics, law, et cetera. This was always a bad argument but it is a particularly bad one for Christians to make. The argument, in effect, posits the public moral order as the supreme good. A Christian making this kind of argument is, in effect, abandoning God for the World.

Return to index of contributors

From: Tom Dickinson
Date: 8/25/2000
Subj: The Archivist

Just read the subject essay. Pretty profound. Very creative.

Can you help with a bit of context of how you created that story, and why?

I'm pleased that you liked The Archivist. I can't completely explain the genesis of the story. I can, however, give you something about fragments that went into the story.

The idea of a book of life, a book maintained by celestial powers that records every bit of one's life, is an old one. It is a powerful image. The particular variant, that the book records the traces of one's life in the world, may be novel. That derives from thinking about paleontology and history. Despite our obsession with reconstructing the past, the past is irretrievably gone - all there is are traces of the past present in the here and now. The world is like the archivists books - it records the past in the form of traces that inexorably vanish over time.

The faceless servitor comes from John Brunner's "The Traveller in Black". It is one of those little bits of imagery that is pregnant with possibility. Faces are what we know people by. Identity is concealed by masks; it is erased by facelessness. The machine is a faceless servitor; the boundary between the machine and the living self is obscure. Some dream of erasing that boundary and others fear its erasure.

Deep thoughts as a phrase is taken from Saturday Night Live (Jack Handey as I recall). It is either satirical or possibly a real objective.

The situation is Kafkaesque - the man is in a situation he doesn't understand controlled by unexplained powers.

There is an echo of Eastern mysticism in the themes which I will leave unexplained.

There is also something I don't understand in it about what it means to relive the past.

Return to index of contributors

From: Nancy Bove
Date: 8/15/2000
Subj: Piltdown

I was looking at your page regarding the Piltdown man. I find the subject very interesting as I am the great great niece of W. J. Sollas. My mother speaks of the scandal and we would love to find out more about what people think his possible involvement is. My mother is sure that he did not have anything to do with it, but of course is a bit biased.

I don't have a great deal of information about the Douglas accusation against your great great uncle. As far as I know the accusation was short on specifics. In any case it is reasonably certain that he had nothing to do with the hoax since he lacked the means, the motive, and the opportunity to participate. The only connection that I can definitely see is that he was on bad terms with Keith (their academic quarrels were quite vigorous and ill tempered) and Woodward who were principals in working with the Piltdown man remains.

In the period after the exposure of the hoax there were quite a few accusations that were made. Almost all of these were fanciful and little grounded in fact. The accusation against Sollas seems to be one of them.

Return to index of contributors
From: Stan Holt
Date: 8/12/2000
Darwin Awards

I laughed my head off! Why did you stop in February? Keep going.

Thanks, I'm glad you liked the pages. I've been busy with major changes in my life. I should have time to get caught up this fall.
Return to index of contributors

From: S Wei
Date: 8/19/2000
Subj: S Wei

From what I have read, there is a major flaw in the story. The girl is never informed anything about the danger as clearly stated in a dialog from the girl. "I'm guilty, so what happens to me now? Do I pay a fine, or what?" Painfully clear that the girl is never informed about the danger. At least when you are on ocean cruiser, they told you where is dangerous and they "at least" lock up dangerous place like the engine room. Yet she walk right through the door and into the pod, with that kind of security, I wonder why the author never account that some ship has been blown up for some crazy people can slip a bomb in there and walk away. Also the sign says "Unauthorized Personnel Keep Out", won't it be more effective just by changing it to, "DANGER, UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY WILL RESULT IN DEATH." since that's what will happen. One more thing, if the ship only contains necessary fuel and a small surplus for error correction all because to conserve fuel, why using a pilot at all? Since in this story the computer is definitely smart enough to pilot the ship itself. There is one technical flaw at the beginning of the story that I think is flawed. If the girl is on the ship at the beginning, then the EDS will be off course at the beginning. The weight of the girl will cause the ship to leave Stardust at slower speed.

You're quite right about the flaw but it is a necessary flaw - the whole point of the story is lost if the girl knows that the nature of the danger. The technology is okay or at least reasonable given that the story was written in 1954. The real potential of computers weren't obvious then. The rocket science is okay; the added weight of the girl matters very little at the beginning of the trip.
Return to index of contributors

From: Macpr2
Date: 8/11/2000
Subj: Question

I find it hard to believe you are/were a college professor, let alone a Marine. Your spelling and grammar is about 7th grade level.

Chortle. May I infer that you believe that Marines have higher standards for spelling and grammar than college professors? Perhaps we should replace the faculty at Harvard with a team of drill instructors. You should write Harvard immediately and offer your services. I'm sure that they will be delighted to hear from you.

Be that as it may I am not now and never was a professor. I merely mentioned that I could easily be mistaken for a professor - in fact I often am. I will admit to being a terrible proof reader though. Deal with it.

Return to index of contributors

From: G.Van Bussel
Date: 8/9/2000
Subj: Fan Mail

We dig your website, right on...

Read your Heinlein thing (laughter),

Of course, it is a reference to 'The Iron Commander', right?

Do we lack subtlety, or are we just dumb? Feel free to respond (or not..)

I'm missing something; I'm not familiar with 'The Iron Commander'; it sounds like I should be. I have read 'The Iron Dream' by 'Adolf Hitler', that noted Science Fiction artist and writer. Were you thinking of that?

When I wrote the Heinlein thing I posted it in a usenet news group where it drew a number of indignant comments correcting errors of fact. Some people.

The "Heinlein thing" interweaves reality and fiction with a number of critical points slipped in here and there. Thus Heinlein did write in the tradition of authors such as Twain and Sinclair and wrote out of a similar background. It is possible that he could have been a major author if he had written mainstream fiction. He was almost of the last generation that could write in that style and be accepted.

... continued on next rock ...

re: Iron Dream/Iron Commander (aka: Lord of The Swastikas): it's the same thing, correct me if I'm high, but I'm almost thinking different editions I've seen have been titled differently...a truly clever/appalling classic of bad taste...

"Lord of the Swastikas" was the subtitle. My copy has gone lost which is unfortunate. I've never seen it as anything but The Iron Dream. A quick web search turned up a reference to his staff as the Iron Commander.
Heinlein has written some good stories, but alot of his writing bugs me.. I think the late Tiptree Jr. was quoted with some funny scathing criticsms of his stuff..
Are you sure that it was Tipree Jr. (Alice Sheldon)? That sounds like Joanna Russ. Heinlein bugs a lot of people albeit for different reasons. I think most people agree that his later work merited close attention with an editorial cleaver.
Speaking of Twain, how did Vonnegut aquire a reputation as a writer of 'literature' beyond the confines of a SF classification? He always struck me as a pretty well straight SF writer...
He insisted on it. He demanded that his work not be labelled or marketed as genre SF and he carefully had nothing to do with the SF subculture. The way it works is that there is a mainstream literary establishment and an SF establishment. The two don't particularly talk to each other. You can write mainstream SF provided (a) it doesn't look like pulp adventure fiction, and (b) you participate in the mainstream literary establishment.

... continued on next rock ...

Yeah, it was Alice Sheldon, I do not recall the exact words of her comments about Heinlein but it was rude and I laughed. (J.Russ certainly isn't his biggest fan either...) I should look up more of her stuff, she was a pretty good writer... (also, am I the only person who liked Starhawk's SF epic 'Fifth Sacred Thing'?)

Between you and me, yes. I haven't read it or seen it, whichever is the relevant verb. Other people probably liked it.
Your comment re: Heinlein & editing: reminds me of a passage in one of his books where he denigrates editors as people who only want to piss on his work...which is a shame cause all editors aint perfect, but a good editor can be a big help. I know some of my editors have been invaluable in translating my creative manglings into a palatable form, not to mention helping me with much needed fact-checking..
Good editors are jewels. Too many are paste. There is no doubt in my mind that Heinlein's later works badly needed an editorial axe - too many of them are bloated and self indulgent.

This is often the case, though, with writers who achieve great popularity. In the later part of their career they have the stature to demand that they not be edited and that every precious word be printed just as it is written. The tragedy is that most writers in the later part of their careers lose most of their innovative creativity. They can pour words onto paper, though, by dint of long habit. The result is bloated reworks of past thoughts and themes.

I actually thought the movie Starship Troopers was okay: Verhoven pulled out and twisted the authoritarian aspect in a way I found amusing...
You can look at this two ways. One is to look at whether the movie was faithful to the book. My answer is that it was not; it was a nasty and dishonest misrepresentation of Heinlein and what he wrote. Heinlein was not an authoritarian - this is a standard misunderstanding of leftists - nor is ST particularly authoritarian. Another way to look at it is whether it was a good movie in its own right. My answer is a qualified yes. Verhoven wanted to protray a neonazi starship trooper universe; he did a pretty good job of it. He had to do something; nobody could have made a successful movie that was faithful to the book.
Speaking of armies, I enjoyed your Marines stories...they reminded me of Hasek's 'Good Soldier Svejk'.
Thank you.
I also recently read Haldeman's semi-autobiography about Vietnam, and would recommend it.
I haven't read it but I suspect I would enjoy it.
Return to index of contributors

From: FrancAsisi
Date: 8/12/2000
Subj: Hiesenburg and Buddism and Ptolemy and Flat Earth and Evolultion

Hiesenburg essentially looks in his finite microscope and comes away with a
1) yin-yang disappearing-reappearing atom.
2) with chaotic orbits (epi-cycles) for electrons
3) that (like ships' masts) appear to come in and go out into the horizons of nothingness.
4) and he thinks that he has proven that we have all Morphed from monkeys like the Japanese Power Rangers Morph from weakness to strength; from social disorder into alturistic chaos.

But Christians know that the only Hell is the only ship that is coming in for those who don't yet exist and are strong. And Heaven is coming in for those who have been Morphed into weakness by the Jesus Christ's Spirit from above.

Dear Sir or Madam as the case might be,

As a matter of policy I do not argue with religious cranks through email. I will note though your description of Heisenberg did has very little to do with reality. Your points 1-3 are wildly at variance with Heisenberg's work in particular or modern physics in general. Your point 4 is even further off the mark. Heisenberg had nothing to do with the theory of evolution. What is more the theory of evolution doesn't say that "we have all Morphed from monkeys".

... continued on next rock ...

The response to me: "you're a nut and you've got it wrong" might get a non-Christian to the grave at a ripe old age healthy, wealthy and wise. But it will be a Faustian grave and you will have proved to be a very bad scientist because you will have built a life on the ad homonym. You are a man of convenience indeed.

That's as it may be. It doesn't change the fact that you are a nut and you got it wrong.

Do write again, preferably in the next century.

Return to index of contributors
From: Kevin Lohman
Date: 8/9/2000
Subj: a serious notion/whim on gravity

hello sir,
great website full of inspirations,etc

now read this crazy? idea and all i want to know is could it be possible

(everything being possible!) imagine that a very low-gravity field is constructed high above the surface, 2/3/4000m above sealevel, maybe in certain regions. then the power to keep objects in the sky would not be as much, lesser fuels needed by aeroplanes, if it worked giant aircrafts could be constructed , cities in the sky! Buildings could soar from the ground thousands of meters high as the gravity field would support them? i know with present technology artificial zero-gravity fields exist in enclosed labs, out in the big blue open, could it be possible?

i found inspriration from art by the "sci-fi artist" Harris, and his works entitled "MASS".

please feel free to ignore if this sounds like crap

Artificial gravity fields and zero gravity fields are commonplace in science fiction but as far as I know they don't exist in the here and now, not even in laboratories. What does exist are are arrangements of masses to cancel out differences in gravity. If you change altitude the pull of gravity changes because your distance from the center of the Earth changes. By making careful arrangements of masses around a small region the pull of gravity will be constant rather than variable. I'm sure that this isn't what you had in mind.

If it were possible to create zero gravity fields there would be a lot of neat things you could do with it.

Return to index of contributors
From: Shannon King
Date: 8/14/2000
Blab, blab

Thanks for the sensible anaylsis.

You're welcome. By the way, which sensible analysis are we talking about?

... continued on next rock ...

The anaylsis of Waiting for Godot. Some very funny viewpoints. They will be a focal point for a mini production of the play. don't you just love Drama!

Now that has me intrigued. Is somebody really using them as a focal point for a mini production? Any information about this will be gratefully received.

I do indeed love drama.

Return to index of contributors

From: Malcolm Blissard
Date: 8/7/2000
Subj: Turducken

I saw your site and I wondered if you have heard of a turduken taken one step further and stuffed inside a pig. I saw it on television and did not get the information. I do think it is in New Orleans.

I haven't as far as I know. The turduken (also turducken) page is
Return to index of contributors
From: Charles Thompson
Date: 8/3/2000
Subj: Good Morning

I was born in the small farming community of Skowhegan maine in 1933. I have been toying with the development of a memories page for the farm back then, and have been browsing, looking for some material that might help....I read you pages and loved every bit of what memories sharpening the mower blades by turning the whetstone by hand, axes etc. I have tried hard to find a picture of an old barn, not for the barn as much as for the old "Runway" where we got up a head of steam and with a full wheelbarrow full of manure, charged out of the barn, up the ramp, and out yonder attempted to dump it without losing ones balance and becoming a part of the manure pile, wheel barrow and all. I also would like to find a picture of a peavey, an honest to goodness hay wagon, even the horse drawn hay mower. When in maine years ago I got a nice picture of a trip rake sitting out in the field. I guess what I really want to do is graphically recap as best I can graphically, all the old farm material we used when I was a kid, from the cross cut saw to the pitchfork.

The address is below, but please remember I am just starting it

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated....I am bookmaking your site for some return reading....It;s great.

I enjoyed reading your site. Keep working on it.

There is a group in South Dakota that keeps up the tradition of horse drawn machinery. They travel around a bit doing work as an exhibition of how things used to be done in the old days. I know they do horse drawn threshing and mowing and, yes, they use a trip rake.

When we mucked out the barn we backed a cart up to a side door and loaded the manure directly into the cart. I don't remember that we used a wheel barrow but we might have.

I have a pictorial book about barns but I haven't actually read it. In this part of the country barns (which are very much still in use) are pretty much built to a standard plan.

I did like your annotated picture of team harness. I only have vague memories of working with teams although I do remember holding the plow behind a team of horses. I would be hard pressed today to harness a horse for pulling a wagon.

Return to index of contributors

From: Adrian Ordogne
Date: 7/31/2000
Subj: Jet rocket

I heard a few years ago about a fella who strapped a one-time-use jet rocket onto his car and lit it. He apparently impaled himself and his car into the side of a mountain. I would like to know the whole story. Have you heard of this one?

It's an urban legend. I have it in the Darwin Awards section. See http://

... continued on next rock ...

Thanks for the reply. Some of us here at work have been kicking around the idea of suggesting to one of the networks to have a regular weekly series highlighting the Darwin Award winners. You know, a sort of dramatic re-creation. After all, they give the impression of being pretty desperate for new ideas. We would LOVE to see these things for real.

Go for it.
Return to index of contributors
From: JCharles Hitchcock (
Date: 5/9/2000

Glancing through old items:

wrt letter from Bill may not have seen the one thing Disney ABSOLUTELY couldn't put up: according to a reliable-sounding article I read about the time this movie came out, "Pocahontas" has a variety of translations from "tomboy" down to "one-step-above-slut", as she had a habit of running around the village markedly less dressed than her peers.

Isn't history fun? "You get a massive return of conjecture for a trifling investment of fact."

Chortle. Somehow I can't see Disney doing full cartoon nudity.
>wrt "The Cold Equations": You abstract it (in response to's comment on previous stories with the plot) as
"one must be sacrificed that the rest may survive" is ancient. Moving the sacrifice from a troika to a space ship is just a change of setting as far as the theme goes.
The difference is that Godwin singled out an alleged idiot, ignoring an idiot system; the classic case doesn't have deliberately shorted resources, or an author-made scapegoat.
Good point. The odd thing about many of the defenders of the story is their purblind insistence on denying the idiocy of the system. It's all part of the rationalization of "making hard decisions".
wrt evolution -- have you read DARWIN'S RADIO? It's odd -- Bear is getting away from the political rants of his early SF, but I found the notion of a completely new design, just waiting to take over thanks to several dozen transposons shuffling \just/ so, thoroughly implausible -- not to mention that mothering (or fathering!) such a design retrofitted the parents. And as for the design coming out under stress -- how does the turn of the millennium (no World War III, not even the kind of rotation of fortune's wheel MacDonald used as the background for BALLROOM OF THE SKIES) compared with the Black Death? Pity, because in many ways it's a well-told story.
I haven't read it. The gimmick sounds quite implausible unless you postulate that somebody engineered it. Even then it's well beyond what we can do today. The genome project is a great achievement but we are a very long way from knowing how the genome works.

... continued on next rock ...

RE Defenders of "The Cold Equations"

I wonder how many of them are ]subconsciously[ resisting contemporary resonances? "People have to take responsibility for themselves!" is a common conservative way of saying "If I'm big and you're small, it's your problem if I damage you."

Permit me some skepticism. The rhetoric of responsibility is a natural maneuver for the rich and powerful but the real audience for the rhetoric and the most prolific source lies in the lower and lower-middle classes who are struggling to survive. It is just there that responsibility for one's actions is both a necessary virtue and a source of spite and envy.

Bear at least doesn't do a Sawyer (there's no claim that the next step was embedded in the genes by God), but he seems to be coming close to applying Gaiaism (sp?) to humans -- or at least proposing a degree of volition in chromosomes, which seems just as bad.

The Gaia hypothesis as formulated by Lovelock and Margulis is one thing; basically it says that the biosphere is effectively homoestatic in maintaining a biosphere-friendly environment. The new age Gaia nonsense which, in effect, postulates a global, animistic nature spirit is something else again.

Animism and its scientific cousin, vitalism, seem to be a natural mode of human thought.

... continued on next rock ...

RE Rhetoric of Responsibility"

Well, in part -- but the _rhetoric_ (as opposed to vaguely reasonable discussion) comes down to conservative forces holding up jury awards as examples of people not being self-responsible; this despite the fact that the defendant can be shown to have acted irresponsibly. (e.g. the McDonalds-coffee-in-the-lap case; they wouldn't have lost if they hadn't, as policy, kept the coffee hotter than other fast-food places, but the Buckleys, Wills, etc. were all over the case as showing the decay of America.) Certainly there are counter-examples; there are lawyers out there hoping to cash in on a big contingency settlement. (Would that one of them were interested in Paddleboro! But I suppose that since the class-ring plant left town there's not much of an economic base to pay a judgement.) But the people using "personal responsibility" to deny corporate responsibility are legion.

And "spite and envy" are entitled to rise when crimes are penalized differently depending on the class of the felon....

We seem to be talking about different things. I'm on a "I hate liberals" kick of late so bear with me. I think we can agree on the self serving nature of corporate America's admonitions for personal responsibility. I seldom read Buckley and Wills - there are so many interesting cereal boxes that come before them in my queue - and I don't much care about what they have to say.

What I was getting at is there is a large class of people who do exercise personal responsibility and who are rather prissy about it. If I spilled hot coffee on myself and seriously burned myself I wouldn't think of suing the vendor of the coffee for what, after all, was a consequence of my carelessness. (I reserve the right to change my mind if the event happens.) Chalk that up to the culture I grew up in. The point is that there are a lot of people that feel that way. They aren't corporate apologists - they are lower middle class working people.

The "spite and envy" that I was talking about is their spite and envy, their response to violations of the ethos that they of necessity have observed. Their division is not between "the corporates and their lackeys" and "the people"; it is between "the people who follow the protestant ethic" and "the cheaters and exploiters of the system". It's the old story of the neighbour who fiddles and gets a bit extra being the immediately visible target of resentment.

Return to index of contributors

From: craig smith
Date: 7/28/2000
Subj: Your bloody good site

Greetings from Scotland.

Having just found my way into your site via the postings of the mutant watch hate mail you have recieved (some of which gave me a right good laugh) I am now inclined to stick around a see what else is here. I have to say that most (all?) of what is on offer looks damn interesting..

Eclectic is the word for my site. There is a maxim among the chaos theorists, " Life exists on the edge of chaos", which pretty well describes my site.
p.s Has anyone mentioned that you look like author Terry Pratchett?
No, but now that you mention it ...
p.p.s Your humour is also very similar to his, spooky.
It's not surprising; I like his stuff very much.
Return to index of contributors
From: David Dillehunt
Date: 7/19/2000
The Cold Equations

I looked over your section on ''The Cold Equations'' and I enjoyed it. I like all of the facts, opinions, and inferences that you placed in the section.

I read ''The Cold Equations'' last year, in the 10th grade, and seeing this portion of your site brought back the memories of reading the story. Just wanted to tell you to keep up the good work!

Thank you. The story has been the subject of a great deal of discussion over the years. People often have very strong reactions to the story. I like to think that I've done the final word on the story.
Return to index of contributors

From: Carol De Priest
Date: 8/17/2000
Subj: Richard Harter's World website

Somehow I got to your site & was wading around enjoying things (like Piltdown etc) & lo and behold found your essay "If We Had Won in '71." Well gee whizzers, could I relate. Although I'm only a fringe fan now, there was a time when I was in the thick of it. From a small fannish get-together (there were 5 of us) in a bar, the spark of bidding for the '78 WorldCon was born. So in '76 we were in our finest in Kansas City bidding against LA, and to our surprise we won. Thus was conceived IguanaCon in Phoenix. When we discovered we'd won, I think we said, "Now what?" It was to laugh, winning against the pros when none of us had run anything larger than a small regional...

If you hate crowds, I can't imagine you went, but I noticed you said something about living in a trailer in Tucson. If you still do, you're in my neck of the desert. How-the-hell did you decide on Tucson?

I've met precious few of eastern fandom, but of course I knew several of the names you mentioned. Leslie Turek's a BNF, & the Panshins etc. Most of the fans I knew/know were/are western. But my con-going's now restricted to our own beloved TusCon, started in '74.

I didn't know any T-rexs (?) had been discovered in Arizona. Or was that elsewhere? Either way, that's neat. I've always loved those lumbering beasties.

If you have the time, visit my website, & maybe drop me a line. Glad I found your site, & I plan to link to it when I next update my "Science" page.

Carol De Priest

Oops. You didn't read the whole essay. If you had you'd have gotten to the section at the end, "What is all this nonsense?". The whole thing is an exercise in alternate universe fandom. There are big sections of my web site that are in scattered alternate realities. You will find book reviews of a biography of Delos D. Harriman (the Grand Old Man of Space), and a biography of Ayn Rand (a sister saint to Mother Theresa.). My critical analysis of "A Christmas Carol" and "The Lord of the Rings" is not just the ordinary thing. Et cetera.

In real life (if there is such a thing) I never quite got around to digging up dinosaurs nor do I have an ancestor named Ebenezer Feingaster. Likewise the publishing house of Varinoma Press has a specious sort of reality although it does have a website (

I did stroll through your website. It has an excellent collection of links and is well organized.

I did make it to IguanaCon (in the reality that we are communicating in I dropped out of fandom circa 1983). My memories are a trifle fuzzy; I distinctly remember the heat though. Wasn't that the one where Harlan pitched a tent in protest of something or the other?

I don't know if you caught the "Highmore in '76" bid. A group of us concocted a bid for Highmore, South Dakota. The bid featured such goodies as a tent city for the attendees (the local motel was reserved for the committee), compulsary attendance at poetry readings, and the art auction being held at the local cattle auction barn. We did a presentation at the worldcon complete with handout literature and a speech by George Flynn (a Boston fan) in Friesian. We cleverly did not make our bid official which was a good thing. I was later informed by unreliable sources that we got enough write-in votes to win the bid. I was the sole convention co-chairman; we decided that conventions did better if there weren't too many co-chairmpersons.

Tony Lewis later immortalized the bid in a short story published in an anthology, "Alternate SF conventions", edited by Mike Resnick.

Return to index of contributors

This page was last updated August 30, 2000.
It was relocated April 10, 2005

site home site map letters August 2000 email