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Letters to the Editor, May 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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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: Melanie Ann
Date: 5/23/2000
Subj: Scientific theories on Mutation/Evolution

Bless your heart! Well if nothing else, this web link from mutants will have your page counter sky-rocketing by now. You could make a fortune selling widgets or "X-Men" memorabilia *laughs*. Incidently, I did enjoy reading YOUR web page (and your good nature in your responses to the people who reacted). I certainly think in them trying to gain validity to their hoax/advertising, that you should be entitled to some royalties! Either that, or forward all the e-mail to the web master *laughs*.

I am deeply intrigued by genetic mutation, in a horrific kind of way, that is, in relation to mutating human stem cells and embryos. Your study/theories, etc., however, are a natural course, and I do often ponder the natural process of evolution. Recently I have also wondered if ultimately it will be our demise as a species, and the cockroaches will continue to keep on truckin'.

Having accidently run across that crazy mutant site, *still laughing*, perhaps i have not walked away empty-handed.

So in closing, I leave you with the profound words of Monte Python..."The Lunchbox Has Landed"

"The reverse side also has a reverse side." ~Japanese proverb~

People have been telling me that I should be making money off of my web site in some way. The trouble is that I have a deep aversion to putting up any of those stupid banners. This is sad given the strong evidence that I have no principles to speak of.

The next course of evolution for the human species is that we will fiddle with our own DNA. This has a potential for really serious disaster. Five hundred years from now we will be a very different species - assuming that we don't blow it big time which is a very live possibility. Technology augmented evolution can happen very fast.

Cheerily,
Richard Harter

The Lunchbox Has Landed!

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From: Sgt. Donovan
Date: 5/23/2000
Subj: easy on the Air Force Jokes

Sgt. Donovan here , I enjoyed the stories until you started badmouthing the US Air Force... I have much respect for anyone who wore the uniform... but we could all tell a few jokes about how the Marine Corps. grovels for pay from the Department of the Navy ... even the Air Force had enough sense to break away and get recognized as a separate entity... moreover I never heard a marine complain when the B-1 bombers from my unit came over in operation desert fox...or when they ate our chow ...but i hear you in a few areas including some trouble, good times and a choice to get out in 4 years... take care leather neck

Take it with a grain of salt. Snide comments about other branches of the service are a staple in the military, often made loudly in bars with a view to a rousing good brawl.
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From: Devo309
Date: 5/19/2000
Subj: Very funny.

You have an entertaining site by the way. Very funny.

Thank you. Within the sacred environs of my site you may find wisdom and enlightenment - failing that, a good belly laugh or two.
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From: "fishie_pimp"
Date: 5/14/2000
Subj: creationist crap

The Real Truth

the truth about god is that it is for weak minded fools. if you have no faith in your self then of course your going to turn to others for help (which is god for this purpose). the church (god) was created for the soul purpose of money. the same as everything else on this stinking planet. its brain washing on a global level. the time period that the bible created does not match what scientists have proven by carbon dating. see technology is disproving what people believed for years about god. soon the people of the world will see that god is just false. just like when we found out the world was round not flat. we learn over time, nothing is created in a day and some day (hopefully soon) the pope and churches will be obsolete. the ark, the commandments, walking on water, non fertilized pregnancy, its all bullshit for the weak. open your fucking eyes we need to get past the god thing and start thinking about our lives and our future what we can do for the better of society and the world for that matter. we spend way too much time praying (paying$$) and hoping for a answer from some stupid mythical creature named god. god says love your neighbor and turn the other cheek but yet talks about taking vengeance out on others that is crap its all hypocritical. the whole book new and old testament. that's all I really have to say about the matter.I really feel sorry for you people. you can pull away from them and the brain washing, just have faith in your self.

Joseph Rosart
fishie_pimp

Dear Ranter,

While I appreciate your rant I am quite puzzled as to why it is directed to me. Most of my more peculiar email these days comes because people begin at the mutantwatch.com site (a transparent scam promoting the X-men movie) and follow a link to one of my pages and mistakenly send email to me thinking that it is going to "Senator Kelly". If that is what you did your rant seems more than a bit off topic - the illiterates who announce themselves to be mutants at least have their eye on the ball.

On the other hand if you are responding to some other page it were more considerate if you had mentioned it. Your rant is so inappropriate as a response to me or to my site that I reallly have no notion of why I should be receiving it.

Perplexedly,
Richard Harter

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From: Jim Widner
Date: 5/19/2000
Subj: Cold Equations

Just came across your article on Godwin's short story. You may not be aware that it is believed that the story was actually "borrowed" from an EC Comic that had come out "before" the story was ever published. I have a photocopy of the comic which was published in 1952. Lawrence Watt-Evans was one of the first to comment on the plagerism back in the 1980's. Whether it was Godwin or Campbell who borrowed the story line is not known. In an article in the NY Review of Science Fiction in the 90's, A.J. Budrys wrote: "This was the only decent story Godwin ever wrote and he didn't write it." EC was known to steal a lot from SF, but this was a reversal.

The comic story was called "A Weighty Decision" and is about a 3 man rocket to the moon in which the weight has been carefully calculated for allowing no additional weight for a return home. The Captain has fallen in love with the chief scientist's daughter and she is found on board after apparently fainting while looking over the inside of the ship prior to take off. In order for 3 to survive one has to be ejected into space. The Captain volunteers at first but realizes that he knows procedures the others do not. Each crew member has procedures the others do not know so the only expendable one is the girl. She is sent off, realizing there is no other choice.

Thanks for writing. The theme was used earlier in a story called Precedent by E.C. Tubb in 1949 IIRC (I'm 1800 miles from my library and the machine with the relevant files at the moment.) In that one the ship is on its way to Mars. They are hauling cargo with fuel figured down to the gnat's ass. There are two crew members. The brother-in-law of one of the crew stows away. They eject him, establishing the precedent that stowaways are ejected. When I get around to updating the page I will add that info as well as the info about the EC variant.

In any case I don't agree that it is plagiarism or a steal. The theme of "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. At this late date there is no way of knowing if either Campbell or Godwin was familiar with the Tubb story or the EC story. I wouldn't be surprised either way. Even if they were, though, it's a fresh and distinct treatment of a basic story possibility. It's no more plagiarism than were Asimov's robot stories a steal from RUR or Adam Link.

TCE is a substantially different story from either of the two earlier stories and is much more sophisticated. It may have its faults, many of which I detailed in the essay, but it has more substance and raises more issues than the cited precedents.

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From: Bill Rockenbeck
Date: 5/18/2000
Subj: Love your site!

I just stumbled on your essay about seeing Anastasia over and over. I've been resisting because I have troubles with Disney taking a real story where everyone dies horrible deaths and turning it into something with a happy ending, but after reading your stuff I'll have to go watch it.

I look forward to perusing the rest of your site when I get a chance. Thanks for the entertainment!

I hope I didn't oversell it to you. They did use the basics of the Disney formula; there is a villain, a hero, a heroine, and a comic relief. The villain comes to a bad end and the hero and heroine live happily ever after or somesuch. We're not talking about a real story here - this a variant of the Anastasia myth. The Czar and his family do, however, die horrible deaths albeit we are not shown them.

I'm not sure I'm in sync with you on the Disney fault (Anastasia was a Fox production BTW.) By "real story" I assume you mean an existing story rather than a real life event - there are very few of the animateds that are based on real events and those are recent. The only ones I can think of are Pocahontas and Mulan.

Your objection doesn't seem legitimate to me. I can see objecting to Disney flicks. They mostly are shallow in their plots and characterization and are heavily laden with stereotypes. I could go on at length about that but I'll save it for another time.

... continued on next rock ...

Well, it was Pocahontas I was thinking of. In real life, I understand she was basically kidnapped by the English and died of tuberculosis shortly after arriving in England. In the movie, it's a happy ever after sort of thing, massacres are avoided, etc. Frankly, I don't know the true story half as well as the movie, and that's what I'm worried about.

In Disney's defense they made a movie about the Pocahontas myth rather than the real Pocahontas story. Let's see; Pocahontas was a young girl about ten years old IIRC. She married John Rolfe (and not Smith); I don't know if it is accurate to say that she was kidnapped. She did die young though.
Shallow stereotypes, yeah!

That said, I have nearly every animated kid's film ever made on video and can sing nearly all of them. :-)

The Iron Giant. Now THERE'S an animated classic!

I haven't seen it; clearly I should.
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From: Rumorblack
Date: 5/13/2000
Subj: where did...?

This web page is great!

Where did you chair conventions? I would go, really, you're funny.

Keep up the fun stuff and ill be back (are you Sarah conner?)

I don't recall actually chairing any conventions (except maybe a relaxicon) but I've been on panels often enough.

Sarah Conner? The Sarah Conner? No, but I tutored her son in military artificial intelligence counter measures. :-)

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From: Rumorblack
Date: 5/13/2000
Subj: Creationism FAQ

Thank you so much for compiling that for me. It has answered every question I have ever had and as a result am now going off to join a religious order and prepare for the end of the world.

Thank you,

Always glad to be of service. Let me wish you a long and happy life while you're waiting - a very long one.
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From: Findalis
Date: 5/13/2000
Subj: Harmful Mutations

First I have to congratulate you on getting such a wonderful link to a fake site. How did you do it? I'm jealous.

Thank you. I had nothing to do with it per se - I assume they were looking for links with good titles and for their purposes "Are mutations harmful?" is just about perfect. However it is true that it wasn't entirely an accident - I have a large site with a lot of off beat pages which regularly get linked to.
I found your site quite informative and got a chuckle out of both the humor you have upon it and the e-mails you get from those who thought the MUTANT WATCH site was for real. I'm ROFLMAO over it.
"... a source of innocent merriment ..."
Although I found your arguments quite well thought out, I disagreed with them fully and consider them part of the "junk science" that is out amongst us.

Believing in the Free Exercise of Speech I welcome you to your views and the expression of them.

That is a little vague, you know. Perhaps it is better if we leave it that way.
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From: Brian
Date: 5/13/2000
Subj: I have a question about mutation...

My name is Brian and I have been reading about this mutation subject... I have a question for you and I would appreciate it if you would answer it if it is possible. My question is that I was wondering what types of advantages human mutation has. Or, should I say, is there any advantages to human mutation? I have wondered if it is possible for a humans genes to be altered in some way, at birth or after, to actually enhance a person? I am not talking about viral protection like an HIV immunity, I am talking about enhanced senses, or maybe even ESP or something along that line. I would really appreciate it if you respond to my e-mail with a most thoughtful response, for I am only a student and wishing to gain more knowledge on a subject. Thank you for your time.

As a general statement the sort of thing I think you have in mind is not possible and will not be possible for quite some time to come. In the near future, within a decade or so, you will see gene cleaning whereby genomes will be cleared of defective genes, probably at conception. Really major changes, however, require that many genes be changed in a coordinated fashion so as to alter the developmental sequence. We are a long way from knowing all of the ins and outs of how organisms develop from zygotes and the biochemical processes involved.

There are many mutations, however, which are small but which make the body work better. In your lifetime (but not in mine) people should have the capability of replacing bad alleles (an allele is a version of a gene) with better ones; things like heart disease may become a thing of the past.

I hope this helps,

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From: "sam bowlby"
Date: 5/11/2000
Subj: i am a mutant!! just kidding!

sorry, i think i just sent this before i typed the message. anyway i have spent an hour just reading the letters people have sent you about the x-men sight. you must just amuse yourself with them, some of your responses are hilarious. i checked out the mutantwatch sight because i saw a commercial on tv and wanted to see what it was about. on the bottom of the page it says something about stop the x-men, so people should be able to figure it out. but it was interesting with all of the genetic mutations essays. so i found your link and i love it. i will spend more time on your page tomorrow. i'm sorry you had to deal with all these people, you should sue marvel and get some money for that.

cheerily:)
sam
p.s. i know my english and grammar are bad and i didn't capitalize anything. i always do this when i am emailing, sorry.

Do I amuse myself with the mutantwatch inspired letters? Indeed I do. By all means meander through my site. It has everything except an essay on rose gardens but then I never promised you a rose garden.
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From: Jennifer
Date: 5/12/2000
Subj: Hello

I just read your page about the Marines and I wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed it. My name is Jennifer, I'm from San Diego. I just started dating this guy who is in the military and ever since meeting him I was always curious about the things he has done in the military. Of course, dating someone makes things much more interesting than you had ever thought before. I've had grandparents and ucles who were in the Navy and Marines and Army and such but I was never so interested in knowing about it until now. Sad huh? I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that I'd be involved with a jarhead. Anyway, he never tells me much about his experiences. Maybe because I don't ask often enough. Maybe because he thinks it would bore me. Maybe because there is a whole lot to tell.

Before I let the ball roll and continue writing about myself and this guy I am seeing I'll stop this email. I don't know how interested you are and besides, the only reason I wrote to you was to tell you that I enjoyed reading about you being in the Marines. The way your write is so relaxed and makes me feel comfortable to read about a stranger.

Thanks for writing; I'm pleased that you found the reading comfortable. As for your young man, he probably has difficulty translating his military experiences into the dating situation. Being with a woman and being in the USMC are very different. He might be thinking of you as a haven away from the military.

Just as a bit of warning: If you and he end up being serious and he wants to go career you should know before hand what you're getting into. Being the wife of a career military man is a tough life.

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From: JCharles Hitchcock
Date: 5/9/2000
Subj:
Metacomments

I have never played seriously myself, but I was interested to note one of your pieces of advice that was an interesting parallel to something Seth Breidbart (you remember him...) said many years ago (after a notorious Pghlange featuring a table stakes game that was taken by somebody who "just wandered into the convention"): "Before a card is dealt I decide how I'm going to feel about the hand, and keep that up regardless of what I'm dealt." (I suspect this is less effective than your suggestion of acting is if the hand is what you're going to bet it to be -- \when/ you're playing high-low. Is this workable in single-winner hands?)

Just happened to wander into the convention, eh? I'm surprised that someone would hustle an SF con.

Seth's scheme works but not all that well. What's involved here is sort of subtle. Even the best poker face has some subconscious tells (a tell is a mannerism that tells the onlooker something about the persons hand.) People will pick up on this even if they aren't consciously studying you for tells. The trick is to fool yourself about what your hand is, thereby fooling the people who are studying you.

One of my poker books had good advice about this. If you are up against a really tough player who can't be read the advice was to relax and gather an intuitive impression of what he was up to. When you arrived at that impression act on the basis that it was wrong. One of the players in my regular game admitted to me that he used to do that against me.

Single winner games are very different from split pot games. You can't steal a direction; if you're in the pot at the end you'd better have a winner. There are big differences between five card draw and the stud games (5 & 7). In stud games you get and give information about what each card does for your hand. In consequence there is considerable room for deception.

In draw no face cards are shown; the only information you have is the betting and the number of cards drawn. In turn position is very important. The last player to act has an enormous advantage; the players between the opener and the last player are in a weak position because they are in danger of being caught between two strong hands. Many ploys revolve around manipulating the betting so as to be in a strong position.

wrt Patty Sims desire for a son like you:
Mother: My son wants to grow up to be just like you!
Barry Lubin: You mean a short Jewish transvestite?
(Until his recent retirement from the Big Apple Circus, Barry Lubin played the lead-clown role as "Grandma".)
Chortle.
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From: DocTerminus333
Date: 5/9/2000
Subj: Grackles

It was a beautiful day, not a fish in the sky, not a bird in the stream, nor sand in your eye, not a cloud arose steam and the desert was dry, I fell off a cliff what a nice day to die.

Ebuc Cube

All days are a good day to die.
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From: JCharles Hitchcock
Date: 5/9/2000
Subj:
Affaires

I wouldn't exactly call Brin a liberal; in two of his books he puts up straws (feminism in one, environmentalism in the other) for the purpose of mocking and demolishing them. (This has no resemblance to the mirror of feminism Bradley did in THENDARA HOUSE -- there's no more honesty in the representations than there would be if Poul Anderson had done these books.) I understand Brin has been showing various signs of the sort of instability that is amusing provided he's pointed somewhere else and out of splatter range. Note that talking about something being undemocratic is not a clear mark of a liberal; did his mail by any chance mention black helicopters?

A populist perhaps? His main thesis seemed to be objection to the aristocratic principle as displayed in Tolkien and Star Wars together with some celebration of America and the common man. Now that you mention it, though, Brin doesn't display the stigmata of the liberal.

Which books are you thinking of? I've read The Practice Effect which is a fun bit of fluff, The Postman which is a book, and a couple of the Uplift books which have some neat ideas. The series decayed fairly fast and I lost interest.

Speaking of Poul Anderson and feminism I understand they are resurrecting The Virgin Planet. 'Tis the veritable ghost of Thanksgiving dinners past. I'd rather they'd reprint The Virgin from Valkarion instead. I no longer remember the details of that particular masterpiece (it appeared in Planet Stories) except that our heroes rode hengists instead of horsas and that the letter columns afterwards were filled with indignant letters suggesting that the title should have been The Whore From Whalkarion. I believe it was set in the ruins of an Empire, a somewhat less than original background.

I've always been rather fond of MZ Bradley and the Darkover series. Thendara House is excellent albeit the handling of the male characters uses the very flimsiest of thin cardboard. I rather like Storm Queen and Hawk Mistress - they don't have the forced ideological content of the Terran stories.

No black helicopters as I recall but one may have slipped in past me.

The Cuban-American community is not monolithic (as some of the less soap-operatic media have discovered during Elian); the reactionary portion of it is "persona non grata to liberals" because of its habit of using violence (sometimes monetary, usually physical) against its opponents. (There was interesting report that the judge who gave custody of Elian to his most reactionary relatives seems to have received $200,000 from the reactionaries not long before the case came up; I don't know whether this hasn't been heard from more generally because the report fell through or because there are so many corruption cases in Miami that this disappeared in the general noise.)
I wouldn't be surprised. Americans are regularly astonished to discover that people fleeing from tyranny are not necessarily nice people and don't always make the best of neighbours.

I am curious (but not very); I was under the impression that the INS paroled Elian to said relatives. How did a judge get into the original custody bit?

I do not doubt your report for a moment but in general I put no stock in various reports in the media about the terrible things that one party or the other has done. Spin doctors on all sides pump out disinformation and the media swallows it shamelessly. There is almost no sense of responsibility on the part of the media to check on the truth and the spin of the material that they are fed. This gullibility is worse on the part of the opinion commentators who seize on "poisoned well" stories to suit their agenda; the straight news reportage tends to be bland, meaningless sensationalism.

Just call me Pollyana.

... continued on next rock ...

RE Brin's books

IIRC (picking titles from his website), the straw-environmentalism book is EARTH and the straw-feminism book is GLORY SEASON. GS is really bad: the worst bits out of VIRGIN PLANET, ROGUE QUEEN, and CONSIDER HER WAYS, with a particularly implausible amusement (mechanical cellular automata that can be laid out in rows to run through cycles of Life) apparently stuck in just so he can show he's almost as clever as Piers Anthony. (If that were all I could say about myself I'd be damned if I'd show it.)

I haven't read either. GS sounds particularly atrocious - if I were more into reading "it's so bad it's good" books I might consider it. You do Anthony a bit of an injustice though - in many of his books he has interesting gimmicks thrown in albeit in the form of indigestible chunks.
I thought BRIGHTNESS REEF was interesting enough that I bought the following pair in the ]trilogy[ (haven't read because I'm years behind) but think you're far too kind to THE POSTMAN -- it deserved the movie it became.
I haven't seen the movie; at some point I suppose I should rent it. I expect it will be every bit as "excellent" as Waterworld.
The nature of the ]tyranny[ is also a factor -- or is it our definition of tyranny? (cf Jeanne Kirkpatrick's nauseating attempt to separate "authoritarian" and "totalitarian" regimes, which boiled down to "authoritarian regimes will do business our way.")
American foreign policy is never more nauseating than when our glorious leaders pontificate on the morality of their patently immoral actions.

RE custody of Elian

At this point I've lost track of the fine details, but I thought there was a degree of custody beyond an INS parole. (Or INS parole may involve a judge -- they don't act extra-judicially all the time.)

There does seem to be an extraordinary number of courts involved. I suppose one needs a scorecard and a tipster's sheet to keep track of it all.

... continued on next rock ...

RE Piers Anthony

I suppose I'm thinking more of what he is than what he was -- the above was referencing OMNIVORE/ORN/OX (3D Life is a key gimmick in one of them), and even the first couple of Xanth books seemed fresh at the time. I do have less and less interest in interesting gimmicks per se; too often they're one step up from "The novelized version of my last dungeon adventure." (Dave Duncan has the same sort of problem: most of his books read like plots hung around his latest magic system, with far too much emphasis on the mechanics.)

I've been disappointed by Duncan. His early work was intriguing but I bought one book of his latest series and couldn't bring myself to finish it. Anthony reminds me of the bit from the The Great Divorce by Lewis in which the consequence of choosing Hell is that the choice works backwords in time so that everything in your life was part of Hell. So it is with Anthony; the hackery of his later years works backwards to contaminate everything he ever wrote.
RE POSTMAN, the movie

Worse, from what I hear. I don't think I'll ever have that much time -- don't you have to reorganize your sock drawer, or tuck-point the chimney, or distim those last few doshes?

Or answer the latest spate of mutant letters.
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From: JCharles Hitchcock
Date: 5/11/2000
Subj:
Grackles

From one of your lines, I'm guessing you're familiar with what Dorothy Parker named her bird, and why?

Not at all. Do tell.

... continued on next rock ...

She had a parakeet(?) she named "Onan" -- "because 'he spilled his seed upon the ground'".

Independent invention. If you deal with birds it's an obvious line.
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From: TheresaSpurr
Date: 5/7/2000
Subj: so sad

you are so sad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am sure you are right but what on Earth inspired your comment? Was it my fiction, my choices of reading matter, some deep sadness peeping out of my autobiographical essays or what?

It is so difficult being sad and not knowing it.

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From: Ralphisan (Ralphisan@aol.com)
Date: 5/11/2000
Subj:
alleles

im confused im a biology student andd was getting a massive kick out of the site when you refered to moths as "diploids" diploid refers to the type of cell constisting of 2 sets of chromosomes, one from each parent. by that definition we are all "diploids" are we not?

-confused

Your understanding is correct but incomplete. Bacteria (with some exceptions - everything in life seems to have exceptions) have a single chromosome, usually circular. Bacteria are prokaryotes which means that they don't have nuclei in their cells. Protists, fungi, plants, and animals are eukaryotes, which means that they do have nuclei in their cells. In practice eukaryotes are diploids, i.e., they have two copies of each chromosome.

In ordinary mitosis when a cell divides in two each daughter cell receives as many sets of chromosomes as the parent cell; in meiosis when a cell divides each daughter receives half as many sets of chromosomes as the parent cell.

A eukaryote cell can either be diploid (two sets) or haploid ( one set). Gametes (sperm and eggs in humans) are haploid cells. Eukaryote organisms go through a haploid phase and a diploid phase. In humans and most higher organisms the haploid phase is no more than a single cell. (I have read that there is a haploid ant that only has one chromosome but I don't have the details). In some organisms however (mostly primitive plants) the haploid phase dominates and the diploid phase only exists within speciallized reproductive organs.

The main reason for mentioning that moths were diploids, however, was to remind the reader that they had two sets of chromosomes and hence could have dominant and recessive alleles of a gene.

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From: Mark Weinstock
Date: 5/11/2000
Subj: Finding your site

I must admit up front, I came to your site via that uninvited link from the mutantwatch.com web site. Noticing it was not under their umbrella of domains, I figured I would check out the rest of your site, and see what, if any, link you had to the movie. What I found was an amazingly interesting set of essays, links, and other tidbits. I've since bookmarked the site so that when I have more time, I can browse through the rest of your musings.

So even though you may be experiencing a rash of less-than-pleasant emails from children and idiots, know that at least a few semi-intelligent adults* are getting hooked because of the X-men link.

*assuming a semi-intelligent adult would be caught dead on an "X-men" web site.

Apparently they've revved up the advertising campaign; I've noticed that the traffic on the mutations page has jumped from 500 to 2500 a day. Likewise I've been getting a spate of letters, many of which are from aforesaid semi-intelligent adults. Still and all, the end result is that I get more readers.

It occurs to me that my site is a dinosaur - it is four years old which is positively ancient for the web and it harks back to a time when, for a brief glorious moment, the web was about people.

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From: erincds
Date: 5/9/2000
Subj: yup, another x-men e-mail Dear Sir,

I can't imagine all the crazy e-mail you must be getting right now, due to being linked to 'mutantwatch.com'. I was truly surprised to find a serious site linked to a hoax site (they ought to give you complimentary tickets to the screening for all the trouble).

I quite agree; I'm entitled to free passes to the movie and, at a minimum, compensation for the weird letters that I have been getting. On the other hand they are quite entertaining (see the "mutant letters" link on the home page) and I imagine quite a number of people have found my site and actually enjoyed it.
I found your site to be thoughtful and amazingly well written. It seems as if those qualities are severely lacking on the internet today. I am still working my way through it all. Currently I am being sidetracked by your review of 'Feet of Clay', one of my favorite novels. (Have you read Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman? If you like Diskworld novels, you will love it.)
I am too modest to agree with you about the merits of my site but I'm sure you won't object if I say that your judgement is superlative.

I believe I have read Good Omens - I've read all of the Discworld novels. I'm not sure though - a large percentage of my books at the moment are either in boxes or in alphabetized piles.

I am sure the link from mutantwatch is a bit of a hassle (albeit an entertaining one most likely). However, you, quite unwittingly, may have (*gasp*) educated some of the masses who haplessly stumbled on a truly educational site. Thanks for piquing my interest.
There is a certain amount of work in keeping up with the email. SInce I add them to the correspondence columns I have to work in some variety in my responses.

Unfortunately you are right about the general low quality of the written material on the web. This isn't entirely true; there are many well written and informative pages. However there is an incredible amount of sludge.

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From: JCharles Hitchcock
Date: 5/9/2000
Subj: sigfile

A signature file is a file of text automatically added on at the end of an email or usenet posting. In this letter Chip commented on the signature file I used in replying to him. It was:

Richard Harter, cri@tiac.net
http://www.tiac.net/users/cri
Corn dogs - hot dogs with a penile impant and a corn meal condom
that taste like meat by-products wrapped in yellow toilet paper.

You should have been around the first time (<.5 day) I was in San Francisco; the tour driver announced that the only food he allowed on the bus was corn dogs from the Cliff House.

There is much to be said for fasting.

... continued on next rock ...

interior headline in today's GLOBE: "Jasper White Wants to Serve You a Corn Dog". He's hanging a sou'wester on the tiki outside the former Aku-Aku in Fresh Pond, renaming it Jasper White's Summer Shack. It will be interesting to see the result....

What an enchantingly ugly thought. I will be back out there for 2-3 weeks; I'm heading out tomorrow. I will have to take special note.
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From: Keith Wanser
Date: 5/8/2000
Subj: Accuracy of statement on Piltdown man?

Dear Sir,

Would you send me information and preferably additional references regarding the accuracy of the statment in the following quote, about the number of doctoral thesis on Piltdown man? Specifically, do you have any information about how many doctoral thesis have been written regarding the Piltdown man? (presumably these would include a large number prior to 1953).

Muggeridge, Malcolm, The End of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 62 pp. p. 59
" I'm very happy to say I live near a place called Piltdown. I like to drive there because it gives me a special glow. You probably know that a skull was discovered there, and no less than five hundred doctoral theses were written on the subject, and then it was discovered that the skull was a practical joke by a worthy dentist in Hastings who'd hurriedly put a few bones together, not even of the same animal, and buried them and stirred up all this business. So I'm not a great man for bones."

Thank-you in advnance for your time.

The cited paragraph is not accurate in any of its particulars. The most likely number of doctoral theses that have been have been written about Piltdown man is zero. As far as can be determined none were written before the exposure of the hoax; there may have been some written afterwards but none has come to my attention. As far as I can determine the myth of the 500 doctoral theses first appeared in a creationist pamphlet in 1981 written by Gary Parker. The origin of the myth probably is a misreading of the editorial in 1954 in Nature which read as follows:
"It is agreed that the skull fragments are human and not of great antiquity; that the jawbone is ape; that they have no important evolutionary significance. More than five hundred articles and memoirs are said to have been written about Piltdown man. His rise and fall are a salutary example of human motives, mischief and mistake."
It is not known who the hoaxer was; none of the principal suspects was a dentist. Likewise it is not known why the hoax was undertaken.

The hoax was not a matter of hurriedly putting a few bones together. Considerable effort had to taken to give the bones the requisite appearance of age and to obtain the bones.

More detail and references can be found in my web pages on Piltdown man. In particular see http://www.tiac/net/users/cri/piltdown.html#doctoral_theses for details on the 500 doctoral theses myth.

I hope this is of help.

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From: J Charles Hitchcock
Date: 5/8/2000
Subj: mislink

"Creationism FAQ" points to "crefaq" instead of "crefaq.html". This is probably one case where you don't want an IQ test -- you might actually let a breath of fresh air into some well-fermented minds if they could find the page....

Thanks for the correction. I'm not sure that anything will help this collection of minds but, as you say, it might do some good.

I have read statistics that claim that a majority of the American public believes that the world was 6000 years ago and that the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. It is quite possible to believe any number of contradictory things as long as you don't think about it.

Note: The bad link was in the mutant letters page and has been corrected.

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From: Tim DeLaney
Date: 2/20/2000
Subj: Energy requirements for an interstellar probe

I just ran across this, and it stirred my interest. If it wasn't written as a response/commentary to Peter Nyikos (anagram: one irky pest) and "Directed Panspermy", then I'm surprised.

"One irky pest" - I love it. The good professor was put on this Earth as a test of character.

It was in response, in a way, but I ran it as a separate article. The thing is that I'd never worked out the details of the accelerator scheme or of the energies required. Peter's blathering inspired me to sit down and do the numbers; it is a little sobering.

There is one sentence though that gives the wrong impression:

"The sling shot effect (stealing momentum from a planet or a star) is falls short of the required level by about two orders of magnitude."

This may well be correct, but as Chris Goedde pointed out in t.o., The sling shot effect is not merely a device for stealing momentum from another body, it also can be used to steal kinetic energy from the exhaust mass. I didn't believe this until I went through the math.

The trick is to attain a temporarily higher velocity WRT a massive body by diving toward it, then firing your engines while at this higher velocity. The energy liberated in firing the engines is divided between the ship and its exhaust mass, but not equally (as is momentum). You can increase efficiency considerably this way, but probably not enough to solve Peter's panspermy problems. For one thing, the high gravitational field needed would also tend to collect stray matter. Imagine a collision with a sand grain at .01c!

It sounds cute. IIRC they actually used that technique for voyager; however voyager wasn't accelerated to anything like .01c. It remains that the amount of kinetic energy required for the .001c - .1c regime is inordinate.
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From: Jocelyn
Date: 5/5/2000
Subj: The Darwin Fish

I'm giving this a shot, but do you know where I might find those fish with the feet that you see on cars?

I know it is silly, but it would be a lot to someone!

Try the Ring of Fire Enterprises at http://www.rof.com/

I wonder if I can get a commission from the Ring of Fire people.

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From: "11LT"
Date: 5/4/2000
Subj: Demons in your computer

What the fudge have you been smoking m8, I mean - are you crazy - no computer can posses a deamon in it...isn't that right Satan...see - exactly !

Er, you did notice that that page was in the humor section, didn't you? No? I have some advice for you; don't listen to strangers who offer to sell you bridges.
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From: "Linda Evans"
Date: 5/4/2000
Subj: Dear Richard

Thank you for placing my article in the winner circle of Most embarrassing moments contest. I am in the process of writing a paper back of all of my true and hopefully funny experiences,

Linda Evans winter park, Fl

You're welcome. Little did you know that fateful day that you would be immortalized on the web. Good luck with your paper back.
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From: Wholergo
Date: 5/4/2000
Subj:
Young Adult Fantasy

On your list of YAF you write:

I am also a bit dubious about including Nesbitt (IIRC her works about the Bastable children) on the grounds that the protagonists of YAF's are not generally children.
So they are in Aiken, Cooper, L'Engle, Wynne Jones.
So they are. The demarcation of young adult fantasy (other than as what goes on the YAF shelf in a book store) is problematic. The criterion that I used amounts to books that adults enjoy that were nominally written for teens. I'm not sure that this all accords with what teens actually read. The authors you mention made the list because many people who participated in the discussion insisted that they belonged.

One category which seems to have eroded is young adventure fiction although I just may not be noticing. I'm thinking of things like Tom Swift and his Electric Grandmother and other titles of that ilk.

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From: Flik918
Date: 5/1/2000
Subj: HEY

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FORMER MARINE ONCE A MARINE ALWAYS A MARINE SAY WHEN YOU SERVED IN THE CORP

If you say so; it's not a religion with me. I served Oct 1954 to Sep 1957. By now I've been discharged from both active and inactive duty long ago. If I had stayed in I would have been out in 30 over a decade ago.
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From: SlickAWG
Date: 5/5/2000
Subj: All this crazy mail you've gotten

Wow. I didn't think it was possible, but there are actually people who send you mail and try to prove that they are mutants. One would think that they'd realize your site has nothing to do with www.mutantwatch.com and leave it alone. I'm sending this e-mail after having read several strange mails from people who came across your site from the mutantwatch.com link. Personally, I think it's hilarious and sad at the same time. Well, your site is pretty nice (though it probably sucks to be hassled by so many crazed "mutants"), and though I may not compete for your "Flakiest Letter" competition, I do hope you will read this and see that people aren't all grammatically challenged, wish-I-was-a-mutant crazies. I also hope that this letter will provide a slight amount of humor for you, because though the "mutant" e-mail might be annoying, those of us who pass by and read it find it to be quite funny.
Thanks.

To tell the truth I rather enjoy the mutant letters. It's sort of like having my very own "worst of the internet" site. It is a little disturbing, though, to realize that there are so many people out there who have such a slight grip on reality.
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