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Letters to the Editor, December 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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 December 2000.

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

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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 12/22/2000
Subj: sometimes you just can't avoid looking....

and I looked at today's Ann Landers, which copies a story about one of the few living Darwin Award nominees.

There is no need to be ashamed of reading Ann Landers. A man should own to his low habits with indifference to raised eyebrows and elevated noses.

As it happens I have two Dear Abby books, one entitle "Dear Abby on Marriage" and the other "The Best of Dear Abby". The former dates from 1962 and the latter from 1981. They make for a fascinating study in the change in social attitudes in those two decades.

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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 12/18/2000
Subj: Animals

From my trip to Alaska last July:

Plastic guide: Do you know the difference between caribou and reindeer?

Late-middle-aged crowd: [looks dumbfounded with occasional mumbles]

Plastic guide: (diabetes-inducing tone)Reindeer can fly!(\d-i t)

Excellent. Reindeer as myth and the stuff of stories, cartoons, and song are much more real than the so called real thing. REAL reindeer can fly.
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From: Anthony R. Lewis (
Date: 12/18/2000
Subj: Preppiness

In his letter of 1 December 2000, Mr. Hitchcock makes reference to my daughter following the same [i.e., his] path. I would have to say that Alice may be more preppy than Chip [Mr. Hitchcock] as her path was Fay School, Phillips Andover, and Harvard. Of course, she never got a preppy nickname like Muffy or Chip.

You have failed her as a father; if you had done your duty she surely would have gotten a preppy nickname. It's hard to say what would be a good preppy nickname for Alice - Muffy is not at all suitable. I really can't help you here; I'm not up on preppy nicknames. Perhaps NESFA could hold a contest to pick a preppy nickname for Alice. Boskone is coming up. Perhaps it would be better to make The Naming of Alice a program event.
Suford's father had almost the preppiest road--home tutoring in Kobe, Japan, Fessenden, Phillips Academy, and Princeton (1927). He was quite smug that Fessenden was all-male until he realized that Alice couldn't go. Then he wrote letters telling them to get with it mand become co-ed.
Thus does family pride triumph over gender division.
My side of the family is not preppy; however we have produced at least one Pulitzer Prize winner and one Nobel Lauriate. Suford's side tends towards Generals (not USMC, though--some USA, some CSA).
There aren't many famous people in my ancestry until you get back to English kings. That scarcely counts; English Kings tended to take seriously that business of being fathers to their country, albeit not usually with the aid of wedded spouses. Most of my ancestors were commoners who came to this country to escape the rigors of rural life in Europe. Simply not being starving peasants was a great step upwards. They've been doing this for centuries - June is eligible for the DAR, an organization which she does not hold in high esteem.
Enjoy Winter, regards to June.
I'm doing my best to enjoy winter but, to quote the widow, "We are not amused." June does reasonably well. I shall pass on your regards.

... continued on next rock ...

Suford could join the DAR and FFV but sees no point to it. She did join the Society of Boonesborough (you have to be descended from someone at the Siege of Boonesborough) because Indians are also eligible although none have shown an interest in joining. The S.O.B.s do upkeep on the memorial at Ft. Boonesboro (not on the original site) and have a picnic every Summer. Most of them are into genealogy.

Society of Boonesborough, eh? Some one had a sense of humor. Every county in the midwest seems to have a historical society. There is a fat volume of Hyde County history, containing information about almost all of the families that have lived in the county. Do you think that NESFA would like a copy?

... continued on next rock ...

I presented your proposal for a nickname contest to Alice. She was silent. I asked her what she thought of it. She said--you don't want to know; Mr. Harter is your friend.

Alice's parents are fortunate in having their child serve for them as a model of tact and discretion.
It was 28 F in Orlando yesterday.
Pity the poor snowbirds. All they wanted was frosted hair and instead they have frosted wings.
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From: S. E. Grant
Date: 12/12/2000
Subj: Good Site

Very interesting site I might say. I am just perusing through the poems. Although I am not a student of yours, I'd like to give you a poem of mine.


Love is passion
Love is unselfish kindness
Falling off the river of deaf fears
While leading you into the fire of blindness

I always appreciate kind words; thank you. I am quite undecided about your poem. The first two lines are platitudes; the second two have some strange imagery. "deaf fears" is good; it suggests that one does not hear things because of fear and "river of deaf fears" can be read as an image of fears and obsessions feeding on themselves. "Falling off" suggests that the "river" is something that one rides and, under the impulse of love, falls off of as in an unintentional tumble. The idea is good and the imagery is compact but it strikes me as inconsistent. "the fire of blindness" is a good turn of phrase, combining the fire of passion and the notion that love is blind. You have something here but, if I may, I suggest that youre think the physical action; the language is inconsistent. As it stands "falling off" is something that happens to love rather than to you. If you mean that then I'm afraid that I'm missing the point.
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From: daniel greenwood
Date: 12/8/2000
Subj: Rudolf

hey hoping that you can help me i'm looking for the rudolph song where he flys into the window and it sings .or the other one that the elves sing about santa, starts like ho ho f(&^(^ ho santa's a ring any bells please advise where i can find this site thanks

Thank you for writing. Perhaps you did not read my page carefully. It I'm sorry but I'm afraid I can't help you. Have you tried the web search engines, e.g.,
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From: Joseph Boxhorn
Date: 12/6/2000
The Reincarnation Game

My wife and I each spent about an hour playing The Reincarnation Game. As a game, I have to say that it was interesting, fun and mildly addicting. We have not yet found how to exit the cycle of rebirths, but it would not be a good narrative computer game if it could be completed in an hour. You would not be so cruel as to make the secret of enlightenment something as simple as just turning the game off, would you? I suspect that if you expand the game, any number of graduate students will find it an excellent means of avoiding work on their theses and dissertations.

I hate to break it to you but I haven't installed the enlightenment sequences yet. Those will be the most difficult to script for reasons that I think that should be obvious. They will go in later. The cycle itself should be at least twice as large. Currently there are 49 lives scattered across twelve ages. There should be many alternatives as you move from age to age. The lives where you have many choice sequences are particularly demanding.

I hadn't thought of the "avoiding work" scenario. Back in the old days the original ADVENTURE program was a serious plague. There are limits to how popular I want my site to be.

If you decide to expand the game, I would suggest that you make some of the incarnations female. Now I am hardly an expert in eastern religions, but I was under the impression that gender was a thing of the body and does not necessarily follow one through the cycle of rebirth. In fact, my psychic friend assures me that in a past life I will be someone named Shirley McLaine.
Everybody has been Shirley McLaine in a previous life.

I'm not sure about the legitimacy of gender switching in the reincarnations - it's a yin and yang thing. It would be nice to do though. I will have to think about transition criteria.

While I find the game interesting as a game, I think it is less successful as a narrative form. After an hour of going through it, it seemed to me that a major theme of it was deja vu. Yes, the empire degenerated and was rebuilt, battles were won and lost, strong emperors were succeeded by weak ones. But it did not take long before I began to feel I had seen it all before.
The deja vu - I have seen all of this before - is probably as it should be. The world view of the reincarnation cycle, particularly the hindu version, is a static cyclical world. The pull of enlightenment is that it breaks the cycle.

One of the "rules" of computer games is that you can break out into new levels. The scheme is that the player has to solve puzzles A and B and acquire tokens X, Y, and Z in order to pass through a gateway to get to a new section. I don't think I quite want to follow that rule though.

While I recognize that this is partly due to the small size of this work, I also suspect that this may be an inherent limitation of narrative in a hypertext-like format. Structuring a story is much like structuring a piece of music. One builds to peaks. The relative heights of the peaks and the order in which they come produce much of the interest of the reader or listener. Hypertext format takes the ordering of the peaks out of the control of the author. I suspect that what readers are left with are general impressions. I will say that I am more than willing to be shown that I am wrong in this.
There is much to what you say. The book that I mentioned, Hamlet on the Holodeck, explores what people are doing with things like hypertext formats and interactive simulations. One of the things that comes out is that we are dealing with essentially new technologies for narration. Conventional fiction actually has quite a few conventions and techniques that are unremarked that make narration work. It is quite noticeable that works in these new technologies are variants of fantasy and science fiction games.

One of the things that I do want to do in the expansion is to have more extended stories in which you appear in different roles in different lives. For example, one of the stories already present is that of two brothers, the crown prince and his younger brother. In one life you are the crown prince and in another you are his younger brother. In one life you are a bandit chief with an ambitious subordinate and in another you are the ambitious subordinate.

Finally, your game brought back memories of a board game I once played. I have forgotten its name. The players are seeking enlightenment through a cycle of rebirth. How did one become enlightened in this game? You racked up good karma. This was done by acquiring stuff! I may not be an expert on eastern religions, but the authors of this game seemed to have missed the point completely. If nothing else, your game seems to actually get the point!
Chortle. I haven't seen the game but they certainly missed the point.

Thanks for the comments.

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From: Janice Young
Date: 12/13/2000
Subj: Delhart

My grandson needs to know for school who the character Delhart was in the story The Cold Equations. Can you help us. Thank you a grandmother trying to help.

Commander Delhart was the officer the pilot reported to when he wanted to do something about the stowaway. He probably was the commander of the star cruiser although it is not definitely so stated. In the same passage the pilot gives his name as Barton. The girl's brother's name is Gerry Cross and her name is Amanda.

PS: I had to look it up myself. I probably should add it as a detail in the web page.

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From: Mabel Jefferson
Date: 12/13/2000
Subj: USMC

Mr Harter:
I have just read with interest your explanation of USMC philosophy don't know how much following you ha, but if you have any influence on just one (x)Marine it would be worth your effort to urge all these egotistical little s---- that there are other people in the real world who must eat, be clothed, acknowledged and cared for. Being a Marine is something to be treasured not exploited. Being a Marine is supposed to make one a team player and survivor....not the Lord an Purveyor of all he sees. Someone should brainwash OUT the ME FIRST , ME FIRST AND THE H--WITH EVERYONE ELSE! I have a 42 yr old 20 yr Retiree who has given a whole new meaning to "Semper Fi" and I know he is not the only one out there. All that brainwashing is maybe necessary to make a good fighting machine, but someplace, someone needs to teach Military Personnel how to live in the real world. It's naive to think an 18 yr old can come out after 20 years and be Mature!!! They can't get fired, they know they will be fed and have a place to stay. THAT AIN'T THE WAY IT IS families are paying for it. Granted....maybe they would be horses rears anyway, there is the chance they could have reached maturity in a more desirable manner. BTW your stories were amusing and funny. Hope you've outgrown some of those antics. If not, just imagine what 4 times your 5 yrs could have made of you. Semper?????Fi?????

It does sound like you have a problem on your hands. I hope you understand that I can't help you with it but I do sympathize. Spending 20 or 30 years in the military does make for an adjustment problem upon retiring and returning to civilian life. To be fair, though, I don't think your problem child is representative of retired marines.
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From: Richard L. Deem
Date: 12/6/2000
Subj: Peppered Moth Example

I think you should remove the reference to peppered moths on your page. That once "famous" example of evolution in action has now been shown to be invalid. Please check out the stories below: 999&pg=/et/99/3/14/nmoth14.html

The second article is much more detailed and includes references. Alas, you have to register first (free) to see it though.

Thank you for writing. Perhaps you did not read my page carefully. It not only outlines the classic peppered moth story (which is indeed oversimplified in the form that appears in texts) but also mentions sundry controversies and provides links to them. You should appreciate that the piece by Wells in The Scientist is not a peer reviewed article but instead is an opinion item on a par with a letter to the editor. The peppered moth story has not been shown to be invalid; what has been shown is that the situation is considerably more complicated than the popular simplistic presentation. I will say that Johnathan Wells is not an entirely reliable source and that the presentation in the article you cite is rather misleading in a number of respects. If you are seriously interested in the subject I would suggest looking at the recent text on the peppered moth by Majerus.
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From: Darrell Price
Date: 12/5/2000
Subj: Origins & Creationism

I really enjoy reading the intellectual ramblings presented at your websight. I read the arguements for and against creationism and thought that it would be interresting to find out if either view was aware of their own lack of vision. Creationism's problems I could discuss but I would be beating a dead horse. I mean, they need to step out of the tunnel they have been living in. Another individual debunked creationism but in doing so fell into the same damn trap. Science is not FACT!!! Great example, the Hubble Telescope has practically disproven, or at the least overhauled the Big Bang Theory. Science is not fact, or the truth, but it is the pursuit of truth. It is a logical, methodological, and ever expanding pursuit of truth. It is unlikely that we will ever understand all the intricacies of our universe because our comprehension of the universe is bound within the confines of our cognitive capacities and a long evolutionary process most of which allowed us to survive by using simple tools and displaying dominance in social dyads. Our finding the truth is like trying to teach fish about space travel (although fish have a 1up in this evolutionary catagory because they live in a 3-D sphere of movement where as we walk on two legs on mostly flat ground). It is amazing to read articles writen by physicist who postulate the reasons why their model of the universe is missing so much matter. I have an answer for that model that is far too simple...there is no spoon.

Your example is a bit overstated; data from the Hubble telescope has not "practically disproven" the Big Bang Theory. It has established that things are a bit more uncertain and confusing than earlier models suggested. I also don't think much of your "there is no spoon".

Be that as it may you are pointing at a serious philosophical problem which in its various forms reads:

What is a fact?
What is truth?
What is science?
What is scientific truth?
What is knowledge?

It is pretty well understood among scientists that scientific truth is provisional truth. The literature of science (as distinct from popular science expositions) is filled with qualifiers - "the evidence suggests". This is sensible and accords with everyday practice. S.J. Gould gives a definition of "fact" which, paraphrased, goes, "A fact is a statement which is so well supported by the evidence that no reasonable person would doubt it." This leaves any number of obvious questions begging and yet it also accords with everyday practice. We do not demand of our facts that they are completely inalienable truths. That which was a certain fact may turn out in the light of later experience to have been an illusion.

A difficulty in all of these discussions is to account for the curious efficacy of science.

Be that as it may, that's enough for one letter.

... continued on next rock ...

My hubble telescope argument is founded on the mathmatical inconsistencies that the telescope has brought to light. The fact that the universe is expanding more rapidly than was previously thought and that according to calculations stars are "older" than the universe. I agree that scientists are aware of this provisional definition of fact. I do not think that many scientists are aware of their own biases and how they play into their data interpretation when inevitably leads to an inflated confidence in the overall validity and reliability of their results in support of their theory or theories. My personal belief is that the universe is infinitly divisible and expandable if it is viewed as static and planar which I would suggest is a evolved component of human cognition. We tend to design and develope models and formulas that allow us to interpret the laws that govern our universe. "There is no spoon" is a quote from the matrix and all that I meant here was that we create these forms such as a point is space and shapes such as a cube which does not exist in nature. Nature is not linear. I believe that nature is cyclical. In any case you are a well educated individual and I appreciate your reply. I really enjoy reading the arguments presented on your web sight.

I always enjoy receiving letters of comment which contain encomiums. They invariably are from individuals of high intelligence and excellent taste. I do have a few small comments:

It is premature to accept results such as "the universe is expanding more rapidly than previously thought" as anything other than the most provisional of results. One should not be overgenerous with the word "fact". The use of the phrase "mathematical inconsistencies" is inappropriate.

There is considerable evidence supporting your view of scientists.

I fear that the phrase " the universe is infinitly divisible and expandable if it is viewed as static and planar" strikes me as a nearly meaningless combination of misused words. Also you would do well to expunge the word "linear" from your vocabulary. This is only my opinion, of course.

I don't recall the "There is no spoon" from The Matrix (I assume you are referring to the movie) but I'm not sure that I follow your connection. In _The Matrix_ people are vat babies - their subjective experience is in a completely different world from their actual existence. Ideal points and cubes and abstractions in general are a different proposition. In TM people think that there a real spoon when there isn't. In this world there are spoons and there are the words "spoons". People, even scientists, can generally tell the difference between a spoon and a "spoon".

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From: LadyDragon418
Date: 12/2/2000
Subj: about dihydrogen monoxide

You do relize that Dihydrogen Monoxide is WATER.

Of course.
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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 11/30/2000
Subj: wrt typewriters (your response to Tony)

... repeated from last month ...

I opine that it is more efficient to revise as you go along than to do complete redrafts. Making delayed revisions means that you don't make the change when you think of it.
This is certainly true; it's also easier to take a painterly approach (outlining, filling in, rebalancing/connecting) with a wp. Not that it takes a wp to screw up; witness the notorious case of THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER (1977?), in which Jake and Josh Treves were merged into a single name despite being separated by half the US. (Hardback only -- paperback was corrected, but it gave Brunner another opportunity to flame.) But all of this points to quality rather than quantity -- tasks will be done more if they're easier. (You could even argue that wp slows output, because reviewing and tweaking are so much easier that some people will never finish.)
This may be a matter of people's preferences in writing. Speaking for myself I find it easier to take the painterly approach although that depends on the length and kind of material. The short stories that I put on the web are written straight through. The longer ones are usually outlined with a narrative outline. For things like manuals, though, I find it much easier to use the painterly approach.

One advantage of the WP is that you can jump back and forth to look things up. E.g., in the current scene Ivar is about to don the Raven's Cloak which the Mindmaster has carelessly thrown on the Bird Lord's throne. That happened two chapters ago and you can't remember whether he threw it on the throne or whether he covered Immelda's corpse with it. That sort of thing.

... repeated from last month ...

Still, the testimony of writers seems to be that they can write more with the word processor. I do not say better, merely more.
You mention a supporting case above. Silverberg did good work in standard lengths into the 70's, then gradually expanded; I remember him on a panel that should have been titled "I Love My WP" at the 1983 Westercon. I haven't tracked his later work closely, but I would believe his output has gone up -- he seems to produce large books more frequently than other authors.
Older writers tend to pump out more words. It's easier because they aren't inventing passages de novo; the narrative form is already there to be fleshed out because it's been done before.
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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 11/30/2000
Subj: Beethoven's Ninth

I seem to recall a statement that long-distance driving is considered trivial. You could always get a subscription to the Guthrie -- the two Shakespeare I've seen there were outstanding.

That's a thought. I could always drive to Cambridge for the weekend. I wouldn't want to do it in the winter time though.

... continued on next rock ...

That would be ... excessive (and the snow would probably be a lot worse along the lakes than in the plains). But getting to Mpls should be possible.

Mpls is about six hours away if the weather is decent. One can make an evening theatre performance if one starts out in the morning. Driving back in the middle of the night makes for a rather long day though.

It is quite surprising how isolated mid SD is. For the most part nobody reads newspapers. The local papers are weeklys which have no news beyond the county news. Urban papers are at least a day late and are sparse in their news. The nearest movie houses are 50 and 70 miles away, respectively, and are third tier movie houses. The nearest Barnes and Noble is 190 miles away. Et cetera.

There are upsides, of course. The local wild life is extensive. The other day I watched a flock of fifty or so pheasants meander across the back yard as they migrated from one patch of trees to another. I have refreshed my knowledge of the house construction and maintenance arts. And so on. It's a small life but it has its pleasures.

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From: Stephanie Legge-Davies
Date: 11/20/2000
Waiting for Godot

I loved your site ... we are an amatuer theatre group planning to put Godot on in the Spring ... can I reproduce the text from your site on our programme?

That's a thought. I could always drive to Cambridge for the weekend. I wouldn't want to do it in the winter time though.

... continued on next rock ...

Thank you ... will certainly give you the credit.. We are in the UK ... We are called Bare Bones Theatre Company ... usually do alternative/experimental stuff. If you would like to know more please visit our news letter

I did visit your web page. It made me nostalgic for the theatre and for London.
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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 12/01/2000
Subj: various (reviving an ancient discussion)

... continued from last rock ...

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.
I guess my first question here would be whether that "spite and envy" is something deliberately fostered in this ]class[ as a corporate defense mechanism. No, this isn't a conspiracy theory -- but you can look at how downstate Illinois judged the self-combusting (Ford) Pinto case, or Simi Valley judged the Rodney King case, and others like these, and see the clear sense of "X is an authority and couldn't possibly have done something bad!", and ask where this sense comes from.
The phenomenon you allude to is real enough but there is something missing from your paragraph, namely the "who" who is doing this deliberate fostering. The answer, I opine, is that there is no particular "who" as such. Certainly there are any number of people who write puff pieces extolling this and that. Said puff pieces are seeds blown in the wind; they only take root if they land in fertile soil. Someone, it may have Shaw or Weber or Orwell or some other font of wisdom, pointed out that middle class morality took hold because it was functional and adaptive. The rich, particularly the old rich, can afford the consequences of immorality. The undeserving poor are screwed to the wall in any event so have little incentive to look beyond the moment. It is the petite bourgeois that have (or had) reason to proclaim and practice the middle class virtues. All of this is a relatively modern phenomenon which came in with the industrial revolution.

The point is that the attitudes preexisting modern times and are reinforced and established in the local cultures; they are not injected from the outside. As a further point, people do not as a general rule reason out their self-interest. "Respect Authority" is a useful attitude - authority can bite you in the ass any time it wants to. More than that conflict with authority destroys property, either directly or indirectly, and property is something that has been the crystalization of a great deal of human effort.

As a further matter, said attitudes are regularly exploited by the powerful. The little people adapt attitudes that promote their own survival and the predators exploit those attitudes. That story is about ten thousand years old.

I have my doubts about "exercising personal responsibility". Certainly most of the members of this set work steadily (as steadily as corporate machinations will let them), maintain homes, and live their lives in what we think of as good order. But -- entirely aside from the outright lies told about those seen as not living their lives in good order -- there is not only a lack of awareness of how fortunate this set is but an active resentment when that fortune is pointed out. It's a lot easier to stay clean (literally and metaphorically) when you don't live in a sty (which is not a choice everyone has); observing an ethos is easy when there is a clear reward for such observation.
All of that is true enough. In order to get out of the sty you have to work hard and be fortunate; to stay out you have to acquire a certain amount of blindness.

As a note there are several middle classes involved here - the US has a deplorable surplusage of middle classes - which are approximately divided between those who go to college and those who do not. South Dakota is overly representative of the old middle class - farmers, small proprietors, laborers, et cetera, who are not (by their own standards at least) impoverished and for whom the Ancient Virtu works very well. They are of course at the mercy of the larger corporate culture which indifferently runs over them with great regularity. The white collar middle class has much the same values but does rather better economically and has added its own twists.

The saying about judging someone only after you've "walked in his shoes" cuts both ways here, of course; I am constantly aware of fortune well above the median. (e.g., parents with the money for private schooling and the will to choose it over ostentation -- you may remember that Tony used to rag me as a "preppy", although that stopped when his daughter followed the same path.) I try not to talk of "booboisie" or "lumpenproletariat" or any of the other terms favored by "the chattering classes", but I don't ignore unbalanced judgments.
You're still a preppy. :-)
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