! Letters to the Editor, May 2001
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Letters to the Editor, May 2001


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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 2001.

Index of contributors

Charles Hitchcock
Aris Aristou
Paolo Lutterotti
Charles Hitchcock
Heinz Puppe
Jmbolesjr
Edward J. Willett
Larry Crowder
Charles Hitchcock
AmherstLVR
AA Thomas
brampton bugle
wtpsrp
nail bayraktar
Marion Navarette
Adrian Hills
Kandy Kay Taylor
Matthew Corbet

Other Correspondence Pages

Archived Letters For 1996
Archived Letters For 1997
Master page for correspondence
January 2001 Letters
February 2001 Letters
March 2001 Letters
April 2001 Letters
From: Charles Hitchcock (hitch@ptc.com)
Date: 5/21/2001
Subj:
train stations

The answer to the puzzle makes an invalid assumption about grammar: "-est" doesn't require a specific number of items to compare. A counterdemonstration is "x is the est and the est X in Y; how? Ans: x is the only X in Y." (I'm not sure that this holds for the kind of picky grammarian (as celebrated in a recent HARPER'S) who maintains a difference between "less" and "fewer" or between "further" and "farther", but as you both are mathematicians a mathematical approach is plausible.)

I think that Doug was taking the picky grammarians viewpoint. Common usage is on your side and, speaking as a mathematician, I am inclined to agree with you. Still, the picky grammarian has an argument, to wit:

The trio, "large", "larger", and "largest", cover three different number modes, to wit, one, two, and many, where many is any number greater than two, these being the original number modes recognized by the English language.

Ah, the Russian mode.
I had heard that it was the Hungarian Nobleman mode. Linguistically, though, Indo-European languages had a "two" mode which mostly survives today as archaisms.
It being patent that there are two stations under consideration, the form appropriate for two is relevant. In older times this distinction between the three forms was carefully made in the teaching of English; since, it would seem, English is no longer taught (indeed, is only irregularly used)
"In America they haven't used it for years." (Shaw/Lerner, 1955?)
You've got me, boss. It's in the musical "My Fair Lady" in one of the songs (Henry Higgins is lamenting the state of English in England) but I don't know offhand if it is in Pygmalion and I can't find my copy.
In fact, all three forms are relevant -- given a sufficient difference in size, one could refer to "the large station", as well as the larger and largest.
One can, of course, and be understood. I'm not sure whether the picky grammarian would be happy with you.

The mathematical logicians viewpoint may be a bit different. All three forms are comparative forms. In a sense, the "..er" form is primary because it is a direct relationship from which all other comparatives are derived. Thus the statements that "X is large" is an assertion that when X is compared in size to some unspecified set of things, X has the greater size than all of the members of some unspecified subset which may but need not be a majority of the original unspecified set. In short, the notion "X is large" is rather vague.

The "...est" form has a flaw in that it assumes that is a single maximal element. An element X of a set is maximal if there is no element in the set that is "...er" than X. However a set can have more than one maximal element, i.e., it can have several elements, all equal in size, but "...er" than any of the other, non-maximal, elements. Thus, in a class of children, there might be two boys of equal height who are taller than any of the other children. Neither of the two boys is the tallest boy in the class.

A simple rendition of "...est" is

(Ax)((x .in. S)& (x .ne. X) & (X "...er" x)) <-> "...est" X

which may be rendered in English as: X is the "...est" element in S if and only if for all x in S not equal to X, X "...er" than x. Under this rendition you are right; in a set with one element that element is simultaneously the largest and smallest element. The picky grammarian, however, insists that "...est" should be rendered as:

(Ax)((x .in. S)& (x .ne. X) & (X "...er" x) & (Card(S) >2)) <-> "...est" X

i.e., that the set S have more than two members. The mathematical logician cannot rule as to which is right, the determination of the meaning "...est" being a convention of the language.

On the other hand the picky grammarian is right about the distinction between "less" and "fewer". The term "fewer" specifically refers to cardinality; the term "less" is a comparative which must be accompanied by a measure.

And if you're really picky (and local), you can argue about whether South Station is in fact the largest because all of its considerable building is part of the station, while most of "North Station" is actually the arena.
That's a train station of a different color.
Yes, and Alexander the Great had an infinite number of limbs.
Some one of these days I'm going to have to reread "Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown". I suspect that it won't stand up well under rereading.
(And wrt how comparisons can stretch, I trust you've read THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, especially wrt the individual who was simultaneously the smallest giant, tallest midget, etc.; the original was marketed as a juvenile and would have been a bit past your time, but it's been reissued.)
I didn't read juveniles when I was young; I did my serious reading then. It was only when I was mature (or overly ripe as some would say) that I started reading juveniles. Be that as it may, I have read The Phantom Tollbooth and recall the passage. It plays on a different aspect of the use of comparatives.
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From: "Aris Aristou" (arisaristou@cylink.com.cy)
Date: 5/20/2001
Subj: methodology of research articles

I found your site while surfing. VERY interesting and multidimensional. Who are you? I'm interested in METHODOLOGY of research articles and bibliography. I have some, but I left most of them in S. Africa. If you have time, send me something. Thanx!

The question "Who are you?" is one of those fundamental questions that is intimidating and almost unanswerable. It can mean so many different things, depending upon the desire of the person asking. Thus the questioner might be asking:

Q: Please place yourself in the structured schema which I use to describe society and the world around me. In other words, give me a series of tags that I can use to categorize you.

The answer to such a demand needs must depend upon the categories and tags that the questioner recognizes. Fortunately there are a large series of such tags that are commonly and conventionally recognized. Thus the categories of nationality, ethnic origin, gender, occupation, income, place of residence, marital status, hobbies and interests, religion, and political affiliation.

An answer in terms of these tags often suffices to satisfy the questioner because we all of us carry with mental schemas, lists of default assumptions about persons bearing said tags. This is a practical necessity - we cannot know everyone in intimate detail. These assumptions are only defaults; each individual represents an exception to the defaults in some respects.

This form of the question is more of a "What are you?" than a "Who are you?" - that is, it reduces the person to a list of attributes.

There is another meaning that the question might take, on the lines of "What is your essential self?", there being an implicit assumption that people have essential selves. As an example of this kind of question I will quote from the book, Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. The female protagonist, Jenny Waynest, is addressing the supporting character, Gareth:

... "Who are you, Gareth of Magloshaldon?"

He started at that, and for an instant she saw fright and guilt in his gray eys. He stammered, "I - I'm Garaeth of - of Magloshaldon. It's a province of Bemaire..."

Her eyes sought his and held them in the gray shadows of the trees. "And if you weren not of that province, would you still be Gareth?"

"Er - yes. Of course. I ..."

"And if you were not Gareth?" she pressed him, holding his gaze and mind locked with her own. "Would you still be you? If you were crippled, or old - if you became a leper, or lost your manhood - who would you be then?"

"I don't know -"

"You know."

An irony in this passage is that Gareth, at that point, is travelling under a false identity.

The passage (and the book) assumes one of the great answers to the question of identity, which is that we have an inner essence which defines our self, the various attributes being trappings like the clothes we wear.

Another answer is that there is no essential self, that we are like onions from which you can remove layer after layer without ever arriving at an essence, an inner core.

The fictional theologian, "Bull" Morris, claimed that we wear masks and that the masks become part of our selves.

And so on and so forth. You see, your question is too hard for me to answer.

To turn to your easier but still difficult question - what about the methodology of research articles? I have a couple of web pages on the subject,
What Is Peer Review?
Abusing References

the latter perhaps being best view as advice on what not to do. If one means to write a research article one should read the "advice to authors" sections that journals regularly supply. Further, it is useful to read articles in the relevant journals to see how they are structured. I can, with some reservations, recommend Bruno Latour's Pandora's Hope.

... continued on next rock ...

I have received your answer - very educative, indeed - and I'll take a look in your sites. I hope I didn't offend you with my "naive" question. It was more an expression of admiration about the "depth" of your site! Thanks about the notions and instructions.

I wasn't offended; on the contrary, I was flattered.
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From: "Paolo" (pluttero@libero.it)
Date: 5/12/2001
Subj: Cybernetic theory

do you know where I can Find some information on philosophycal influences on cybernetic theory?

Ouch. That's rather vague. If you were thinking of Artificial Intelligence rather than cybernetic theory there is a host of material. The term, cybernetic theory, is sort of passe. That is, the subject matter, feedback systems and homeostasis, is standard material in engineering curricula. You might look at Wiener's autobiography, I Am A Mathematician, for hints as to the philosophical influences on his work.
Return to index of contributors From: Charles Hitchcock (hitch@ptc.com)
Date: 5/7/2001
Subj: name intersection

Are you in reach of an affiliate of NPR? I was surprised to hear a story Friday about a "Jack Cohen" who had taken another step in experimental reproductive biology, including quotes with a distinct non-English accent; it turns out that in addition to the Brit who occasionally appears at SF conventions (and even writes it, now), there is a Jacques Cohen at work in New Jersey. You wouldn't think there would be so many repro biologists that two would have the same name....

I dunno, it's probably likely. It's a variant of the birthday paradox - i.e., in a room with 23 people in it, it is a 50/50 shot that some two of them have the same birthday. It's the name, Jacques Cohen, that seems improbable.
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From: "Heinz Puppe" (hwp1641@unix.tamu.edu)
Date: 5/17/2001
Subj: God and Religion

The notion of God (and/or Satan) is an infantile illusion. (Sigmund Freud)
Religion is the opium of the people (Karl Marx)

Religion is what people did before they invented parchisi. Et cetera.

Why did you feel the need to write this?

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From: Jmbolesjr (Jmbolesjr@aol.com)
Date: 5/11/2001
Subj: Was a Marine?

Once a Marine forever a Marine. Semper Fi. No such thing as Ex-Marine or was a Marine. Hell I went through P.I. in the summer of 1982. From what I read, you were inlisted in the 50's. Did you not learn that then?

I heard something like that, yes. That was a long time ago and I moved on. This notion that when you become a Marine the globe and anchor is stamped on your soul and you are permanently encased in a set of dress blues is rank mysticism. Defining who you are by what you did for a few years of your life is, well, I won't say what it is, but it's like the guy who was a sports hero in high school and does nothing with his life after that. You must know the type. They have a job at the local gas station, drink beer at the local bar, and fill their days talking about their glory days when they were a big star.

Saying "Once a Marine, forever a Marine" is a form of pretense, really. Yeah, you're a member of fraternity, you've been there and done that, and means something. But the truth is that when you're out and have been out for a while you're not the real thing anymore. You don't pass the physical or the age limits. You act like a civilian and you think like a civilian. You're not under the UCMJ. You aren't sharp in the way that the guys in uniform are. You don't know the current equipment in and out. In short, you know what it is about because you've been there but you're not there now and you're fooling yourself if you think you are.

Do you want to know what "Once a Marine, forever a Marine" is about? It's about the Corps honoring its own and never giving up on its own people. It's about not saying, "What have you done for me lately?" It is not about being government property.

The Marine Corps doesn't own me. It never owned me. It doesn't own you. It doesn't own anybody; it never has and I hope to God it never it will. Marines are not slaves to be owned. They are free citizens who freely took the oath to defend their country.

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From: "Edward J. Willett" (ejw1@erols.com)
Date: 4/25/2001
Subj: Awards Update

When will you be posting the Awards for 2000 & 2001?

Sometime this summer. My personal schedule has been a bit bollixed over the past year.
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From: "Larry Crowder" (LDurward@worldnet.att.net)
Date: 5/7/2001
Subj: A question about the role of a scientist in the Piltdown investigation

Thank you for your very interesting website about Piltdown Man. I have only recently become interested in the subject, and I hope that you will give me your opinion on one area.

In The Piltdown Forgery J. S. Weiner states (page 57), "The surface stains of a number of flints of both kinds were tested by Dr. E. T. Hall of the Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford, using his X-ray spectrographic method of analysis." The more recent book Unraveling Piltdown by John Evangelist Walsh does not even mention Dr. Hall. The bibliography compiled by Tom Turrittin lists only two entries by E. T. Hall.

Nevertheless, a newspaper article announcing the retirement of Dr. Hall from Oxford stated, "Prof. Hall has been famous for his scientific detective work since the 1950s when he determined that the Piltdown Skull, alleged to be a relic of early man, was a modern fake." [emphasis added]

In your opinion, is this accreditation to Dr. Hall deserved and an accurate assessment of the facts? Did he have any role to play in the investigation of the skull, or was it limited to the spectrographic examination of the flints as stated by Weiner.

Hall did a chemical and spectrographic examination of all of the Piltdown bones. He came on the scene after it had been determined that Piltdown Man was a hoax. The newspaper article is in error in that respect. However Hall's work was critical for analysis of how the hoax was manufactured.
Return to index of contributors From: Charles Hitchcock (hitch@ptc.com)
Date: 5/10/2001
Subj: for lazy people?

Got this off a link from the Real Beer page:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/28/18767.html

Some people are so busy and so important that they need every bit of extra help that they can get.

Snicker.

Return to index of contributors From: AmherstLVR (AmherstLVR@aol.com)
Date: 5/9/2001
Subj: Gulp. I'm lost in here!! http://www.tiac.net/users/cri/toc.html

excuse me,please.
Do you have a story on Hover the seal in here?

Not as far as I know.

... continued on next rock ...

Would you please seek it. There use to be a story on Hover the Talking seal. Please check it out for me.

It's Hoover, the talking seal. Hoover is mentioned in Terrence Deacon's "The Symbolic Species" in passing. The web page, http://www.unm.edu/~hmahn/deacon.html, has more detail. I quote from that page:
"Deacon, stumbles upon another language phenomenon study opportunity, while walking near the aquarium with his wife. This is where Deacon heard Hoover, a talking seal. In this chapter, Deacon investigates how Hoover makes such a human sound. He learns that a fisherman found Hoover as an orphaned, sickly young pup. The fisherman nursed Hoover back to health. Hoover was then adopted by the Boston Aquarium. He was sick several times, including one probable case of encephalitis. When Hoover approached puberty he began to talk. He vocalized words and phrases probably learned from the fisherman. He did not use increased speech at times such as mating season, but used more seal vocalizations then. His speech was different from seal vocalizations, not a modification. Deacon raises the question of how this came about. Did Hoover learn to speak? He didn't produce speech in the same manner as humans. Hoover reportedly died of natural causes and the question of his speech remains unanswered."
Return to index of contributors From: AA Thomas (tomsal@hitter.net)
Date: 5/8/2001
Subj: ?????

YOU CAN ALWAYS TELL A MARINE BUT YOU CAN'T TELL THEM ANYTHING///THEY KNOW ALL THE BS
<<<<<<<<<< Msg from the ARMY FOLLOW ME>>>>>>>>>>>>

It's an old joke, but then so is the army.
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From: brampton bugle (bugle@bubblemail.com)
Date: 5/3/2001
Subj: pppppppppppppppppp

Enjoyed your website, thought you may like ours...
http://www.riffraffuk.demon.co.uk/bramptonbugle
All the best,

Oh, indeed. It is reassuring to know that there is an alternate vendor for Antique Chip Fat Aromatic Essence.
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From: wtpsrp (wtpsrp@phonewave.net)
Date: 4/28/2001
Subj: I love the way your mind works

I love the way your mind works.

I have a mind? I appreciate your enthusiasm. Some of my readers, alas, do not. But, after all, what do they know.
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From: "nail bayraktar" (bayraktar@onebox.com)
Date: 4/28/2001
Subj: important message from Science&Research Foundation

Dear Sir,

Today, the debate about whether to include the theory of evolution and creationism in school science curriculum or not is held in many countries. Currently, the notion of evolution is being taught at schools as the only explanation to the origin of life. However, belief in creationism is held by the majority of society. Surprisingly, in spite of people's belief, evolution and Darwinism are presented as absolute scientific facts, and creationism is almost equated with illiteracy by some circles. At this point, it should be noted that the theory of evolution, which was based on the very limited scientific knowledge and technology of the 19th century, has been decisively defeated by developments in certain branches of science such as microbiology, anatomy, biochemistry and paleontology. Still, the claims of the theory of evolution are being purposefully inculcated by certain circles in the minds of all young people as the sole valid explanation for the origin of life.

Contrarily, science, which defeats the theory of evolution, is constantly providing evidence to the idea of creationism. But evolutionists, not willing to see these bare facts, still hold on to the outdated views of Charles Darwin.

The reason why this issue is so important is the current state of the world. Today, as you are well aware, the world is in urgent need of peace and security. The artificially polarized camps in the world of the 20th century divided the people of even the same nation into identities such as fascist and communist, and a system which made people kill each other was implanted all over the world. And this system is unlikely to end unless permanent and definite measures are taken.

To this end, Darwinist philosophy’s ending is the key point. This is because Darwinism constitutes the sole basis for the materialist philosophy which denies God’s existence, creation and spiritual values, and pays attention only to material account of things. Darwinism denies that man is a soul-bearing being created by God, but holds that man is just an advanced animal species. However, animals are beings lacking wisdom and responsibility. Darwinist-materialist education generates masses, like animals, who assume that they will not be held responsible for what they do, think that they can be strong only by oppressing others, and who do not have notions such as love, compassion or respect. Briefly, Darwinism is a belief which misguides mankind to the direct opposite of the path that divine religions lead, and degenerating the humanity, leads mankind into darkness, quarrel and war.

At this point, conscientious individuals who are aware of the menace of Darwinism and are determined to eliminate this hazard are in a position to shoulder a big responsibility. This is because, by removing the Darwinist-materialist education from the educational institutions, and by explaining the nullity and menace of these ideologies with scientific and reasonable evidence, young people will be prevented from falling into the traps of these ideologies and from growing into humanity enemies. In order to attain this goal, it is of great importance that a multifaceted work should be taken on, individuals and organizations all around the world should act together and benefit from each other’s experiences and knowledge.

The reason why we are writing this letter is to co-operate with you - and with your organization - in our intellectual and scientific struggle against Darwinism, to consult with you about the activities that can be carried out, and to invite you to take your part in the “cooperative efforts for this common purpose”.

The alliance of sincere and faithful people who desire the good for the humanity at such a time is of great importance. Any idea, comment or view in this regard will surely contribute to the intellectual struggle we have waged.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Best Regards,
Dr.Nail BAYRAKTAR
www.srf-tr.org

Thank you for writing. I regret to say that your document, while interesting and enlightening, is in error in almost every particular. The thus modern scientific knowledge has been overwhelmingly confirmed the theory of evolution rather than having defeated it. The thesis that Darwinism is the sole bulwark of materialism is, I fear, ignorant misrepresentation. The notion that world peace can be brought about by defeating Darwinism is bad sociology, bad history, and bad theology. You cannot build a Church upon a foundation of lies.
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From: "Marion Navarette" (mnavarette@hot.rr.com)
Date: 4/28/2001
Subj: Mutants

Senator Kelly I have seen your so called helpful commercial, but what I have been meaning to ask you is...are you for or against the Emancipation Proclamation? If you are for it than you are supporting almost the same exact thing you are against. Exploytating young already scared and confused mutants to the harsh grips of the government is wrong and unfair to any living being. Now if you are against the Emancipation Proclamation than...may God have mercy on your pathetic, lowlife, soul.

Rogue Caesolind, a young reviled mutant.

I have good news for you; you aren't reviled because you are young or because you are a mutant.

The bad news is that the X-men movie has come and gone; the Senator Kelly mutantwatch website is a promo for the movie, a promo that is still hanging around. The other bad news is that you didn't pay any attention to the links you were following and reached a web site where indignant letters to Senator Kelly is a considerable source of amusement.

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From: "Adrian Hills" (Arhills@btinternet.com)
Date: 4/22/2001
Subj: Piltdown Man

Thank you very much for your efforts in writing the Piltdown Man website.

I am currently writing the conclusion of my PhD dissertation on the military investigations of television pioneer, John Logie Baird. My supervisor has since 1976 stated that JLB was heavily involved in radar. My research says otherwise -something which is of great annoyance to my supervisor. The theory of JLB and radar has gained popular acceptance, being purported by various newspaper journalists and even worse, is included in various encyclopaedic references to J.L.Baird. Even the Reader's Digest dictionary of 1986 supports this unfounded theory.

A direct parallel can be drawn with the perpetration of the Piltdown man hoax. I have cited one or two basic facts from your website (date of discovery etc) and enjoyed a few minutes reading yor most interesting text whilst looking for said facts. The facts have been included in a brief comparison written in my paper.

I live close to Piltdown in Lewes and regularly cycle past there, always with a smile on my face.

Thanks for writing. I was working in radar in the period from the 50's to the 70's and must confess that I' don't recall ever having heard of J.L Baird. This doesn't mean much - MIT Radition Lab technical documents are not the most memorable breed of prose.

The Piltdown Hoax is a particular, albeit striking, incident in the generation and propagation of error in scholarship and popular belief. One of the driving mechanisms for the propagation of error is that original sources usually are not checked. Thus A reports something, B refers to A's report with "A says that ..." together with a citation of A, and then C ... What C does, often enough is to copy B's description, perhaps with citations to both B and A and perhaps not. In turn D copies from C and so on. In the course of this daisy chain rewordings and even outright mistakes creep in. At any particular time some percentage of facts expounded in the expositions of reliable knowledge are simply wrong. In addition there is a constant input of error, some due to outright hoaxes and some due to erroneous or biased interpretation. Stephen J. Gould has a small cottage industry based on going back to original sources and discussing the rewriting of intellectual history.

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From: "Kandy Kay Taylor" (kandykay29@hotmail.com)
Date: 4/21/2001
Subj: mutants

is it illeagal to be a mutant

Not in this universe. It might be in yours.
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From: Matthew Corbet (oasis-guy@home.com)
Date: 4/23/2001
Subj: Oasis wellness network

My name is Matthew Corbett and I am wondering about pricing/availability/relevancy of ad space in your ezine (s). Perhaps telling you a little about what I am doing and my company would help to determine if we would be a good "fit"

I am a distributor for Oasis wellness network our company promotes anti aging products and education The products are clinically proven effective and have produced great results for my wife and I (as well as several friends) Our version of network marketing is that we like to get the products into the hands of the people who can use them, get good results for them and have a good story to tell when (if) they decide to become distributors/business builders (You can and should do it that way when the products really do work and are reasonably priced)

So, the folks we want to be in front of are either health minded active (and want to stay that way!) or open to being in a business that does not promote "getting rich quick" but getting what your worth through the network marketing business model (hard work + duplication + great products that actually work = success)

Please get back to me as soon as possible and let me know the theme of your newsletter, readership numbers and demographics as well as placement rates and "insertion" dates as we are looking to act as soon as possible

Because we are trying to find a Home with certain ezine publishers (as well as a place to send our "downline" for effective advertising we would also like to inquire about multiple insertion deals or "affiliate programs" you may have

[snip]

Turn Back the Clock! With new clinically proven anti aging products and make great money doing it! You owe it to yourself to visit www.recommerce.com/bellt1 or www.oasisantiaging.com/bellt1 now!

The pricing is free, the availability is nil, and the relevancy is problematic. In short, mine is a distinctly non-commercial ezine. It is refreshing to have someone talking about paying for space - I get sundry emails from organizations offering to let me put up their banner ads as though it were a privilege. As a reward your letter will appear in my correspondence column. Who knows, maybe someone will follow up on one of your links.
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This page was last updated May 23, 2001.

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