! Letters to the Editor, November 2001
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Letters to the Editor, November 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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 November 2001.

Index of contributors

Fred trautman
Marla
Edward
Charles Hitchcock
OrangeRam99
Highlandermic
Boggs, Terrance SPC
CherryT2826
David Asson
Catherine Carney
Chris Mason
Hermester Barrington
Brian Bingham
Bert Herman
Charles Hitchcock
Susan Eady
Chumley344
G VanBussel
Ephraim7
Brett Bane
Donald Cameron

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
May 2001 Letters
June 2001 Letters
July 2001 Letters
August 2001 Letters
September 2001 Letters
October 2001 Letters

From: "Fred trautman" (fred_trau@tularosa.net)
Date: 11/17/2001
Subj: boot camps

hey, i don't know anything about marine boot camp having never gone through it . i did go through army infantry basic,jump school and ranger school. what kept me going was that other people had succeeded. if you concentate on the here and now you will be okay. these schools were demanding but not insumountable.good luck to all these young people.

Well said. You have the right of it.
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From: Marla (Majorjoyful@aol.com)
Date: 11/17/2001
Subj: Bearded Significance

A friend of mine had a dream concerning a beard. I would appreciate it if you would inform me concerning the representation, significance, custom of beards. I know Jesus' beard was pulled out, and I'm sure that that was done for more than pain. Can you enlighten me?

Thank you!

That's an interesting question and one I can't particularly help you with although I will ask around. Beards clearly symbolize masculine strength and power. Many fundamentalist sects - Muslim and and Judaic in particular - make a point of not cutting beards. Pharoahs (even female ones) were portrayed with beards. I suspect that shaving someone's beard was a symbolic castration.

Let me get back to you on this one.

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From: Edward (FieroGP@aol.com)
Date: 11/18/2001
Subj: your marine web page

Loved the diatribe on being a marine. Although I never served I always said if I did I'd be a marine. You made me laugh AND you made me think. Thank you.

Thank you. Recalling one's past is always an odd thing. I read my accounts of what happened to me in the past and say, "Yes, that happened to me and, yes, I was there and I did that," and it's all true, more or less (everyone is entitled to lie a bit about the past), and yet there is that whispering question, "Who in the hell was that?" I sometimes think that who you were and who you are going to be are intimate strangers, people you are closer to than anybody else can possibly can be and yet they are people you never truly understood and will never truly understand.
Return to index of contributors From: Charles Hitchcock (hitch@ptc.com)
Date: 11/13/2001
Subj:
finding "The Cold Equations" et al

20+ years ago, University Microfilms in Ann Arbor put all of ASTOUNDING/ANALOG on microfilm. (IIRC, MITSFS got a copy in return for providing several issues that could be broken open and photographed.) A local library should be able to find out the nearest library that bought a set of the films. NESFA (mostly Tony and Mark) has done much of the data entry for a monster index of all SF that's ever been printed anywhere, but the mechanics of making this public haven't been worked out.

Thanks for the info. I will pass it on.
BTW, did you know that the rock group Queen (which did some SF material -- cf "In the Year of '39", about a generation starship) got Freas to rework the original cover, replacing the solo corpse with the band, for one of their albums? Freas said they invited him to a concert (which he found deafening) for some unposed action shots.
Now that is neat. I sometimes wonder why rich fans don't commission stories to be written by their favorite authors. Oh, rich fans ... never mind.
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From: OrangeRam99 (OrangeRam99@aol.com)
Date: 11/15/2001
Subj: 2000 nominees?

When will this site be updated?

Oddly enough, just before I replied to your letter. The year 2000 nominees and wannabes will be further updated anon.
Return to index of contributors From: Highlandermic (Highlandermic@aol.com)
Date: 11/07/2001
Subj:
Grackles

I'm very disappointed in your negative attitude about grackles that you post on the internet for others to be swayed by your opinion. Grackles are highly intelligent birds and are very interesting to study if you'd only take the time to watch or read about them. They rarely eat other birds, by the way, and how anyone can call them less than beautiful is beyond me. I study ornithology as well, and have nothing but the utmost respect for all bird species, especially grackles. All plants and animals are important to the circle of life and your "war against the grackles" is one of the many examples of ignorant human interference ruining our planet.

I understand that Life Magazine has suspended publication. That's unfortunate but perhaps you can find an issue for sale on eBay. If you can, snap it up, because you definitely need a Life.
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From: "Boggs, Terrance SPC" (Terrance.Boggs@bondsteel2.areur.army.mil)
Date: 11/08/2001
Subj: Dennis Nedry

Hey.....

Do you have an animation of our favorite "hacker" saying his famous line.... Ah ah ah, you didn't say the magic word? I have been searching hi and low and.....zip!!

I'd appreciate it a whole bunch. Thanks

No such luck but if you find one let me know.
Return to index of contributors From: CherryT2826 (CherryT2826@aol.com)
Date: 11/09/2001
Subj: survivor

I am curious about the next survivor show. I read about the 12 men and 6 children, It this true or a joke? Is there a lot of miney for the winner?

I'm sorry, I don't know anything about the plans of the next survivor show; I rather doubt it but it does make a good joke.
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From: "David Asson" (david@doubletreeadvantage.com)
Date: 11/09/2001
Subj: Haying

I first found your interesting article about a year ago in doing research on how hay was stacked in different states. I grew up on an Idaho farm and had similar pleasant experiences and now I am trying to finish a book on the subject.

May I cite some of your article in my book? Would you have more details on the type of derricks used in SD? I see you used a rope roll up system - the only reference to one in actual use that I have found. They are discussed in USDA reference books. What County is Highmore located in?

Have you any pictures? I can pay reasonable fee.

The article is indeed by me, Richard Harter. You may indeed cite some of the article in your book. The roll up rope system was in fairly common use in South Dakota in those days; it may still be in use for all I know although most people are using large round bales these days. Farming is more mechanized than it used to be.

I'm not sure what you mean by derricks unless you mean things like booster bucks and equivalents. We had two such devices. The farmall tractor had a booster buck (bucking hay being pitching hay) which had straight wooden teeth and a gate which could push the gathered hay off. We also had a similar device for another tractor (I no long recall the brand) which had metal teeth. It had hydraulic controls and was more flexible in the kinds of things that it could do.

At the moment I can't find any pictures. It happens, however, that I am resident in my old home town for the nonce. I can check with the local historical society. I expect that they will have pictures that I can have copied for you.

... continued on next rock ...

So nice to hear so soon. Thank you very much.

I have learned that most hay farmers not living in the Rocky Mtn states (Idaho, Utah particularly) have never heard the word derrick used in connection with stacking. An example of one is attached. There were many other versions. They are the subject of my book. Still have a ways to go. Hoping to get more info from the Midwest. That is why your type of contact is so important. Thanks again

A derrick seems to be much the same in functionality as the booster buck. I vaguely recall seeing similar pieces of equipment that were operated by horses. We still had work horses as well as tractors when I was a child. I would be hard pressed to hitch up a horse to pull a wagon but I do recognize all of the equipment.
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From: "Catherine Carney" (carneycatherine@hotmail.com)
Date: 11/09/2001
Subj: The Black Hills trust fund

My name is Catherine Carney and I am a senior at Purdue University. I am looking for the number of Sioux nation members and how much money has been saved from the 100 million in the trust fund for the U.S. illegally taking the Black Hills from the Sioux. We are talking about it in my Native American class and I would like to give our teacher some recent stats. This would be so helpful if I could have it by Mon, Nov. 12-

The number of Sioux is approximately 60,000. The fact page for South Dakota, http://www.state.sd.us/factpage.htm, says that there are approximately 50,000 native Americans in SD. I have seen the latest census figure for SD but don't have it at hand; however I know that it is closer to 60,000.

The situation is a bit complicated. First of all, as far as I know, there is no Sioux nation as such. There are three major groupings, the Lakota people, the Nakota people, and the Dakota people, each of whom is divided into tribes.

There are several major agreements involved. First of all there is the treaty of 1868 which established an Indian Nation consisting of eastern Montana and Wyoming and the western part of the Dakotas. There is an agreement which established western South Dakota as reservation land. There is an agreement of dubious legality in which the affected tribes gave up most of the reservation land. Finally there is the agreement, definitely illegal, in which the affected tribes gave up the Black Hills.

The question, then, is which tribes are included in the Black Hills settlement.

I believe that the amount of the settlement trust fund is currently upwards of three hundred million dollars but it may be higher - it keeps gathering interest. As far as I know, the affected tribes have not accepted any of the trust fund money; however they may have and I have not heard about it.

A good reference for the tangled history of the Black Hills is "Black Hills, White Justice" which was written by the lawyers who won the case. It should be in your library.

... continued on next rock ...

This is Catherine Carney-Thank you so much for the information you gave me. It will help so much. I wish there was something I could do, I feel so bad for what happened to the Sioux, let along all the Native Americans. Hopefully others will see this too.

Thanks again,

You're welcome. The Sioux are among the worst off of the various native American tribes with high rates of alcoholism and poverty. There are things one can do such as contributing to various aid groups. I have no answers for the fundamental problems.
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From: "Chris Mason" (christopher.mason@yale.edu)
Date: 11/01/2001
Subj: completely flawed reasoning

I know that this is in the not-so-serious articles section, but who originally wrote it?

I did, of course. It's my web site. All of the articles and stories in the site are by me unless they are specifically bylined by somebody else. (Stuff in the humor section are by that prolific author, Anonymous.)

It was, as should have been evident from the forward and the content, a bit of malarkey, superficially plausible but quite fallacious. The game, you see, is trap respondents into making ill-judged responses because they *know* that it must be hooey and therefore doesn't warrant careful thought. The most common kind (you should excuse the expression) of such response is to attack the author as being a creationist or some other sort of spawn of evil. The next most common is the erroneous refutation of specific points; indeed the game is to carefully word it so as to suggest erroneous refutation.

To whoever did:

In reading the article on "Hyper-Design" and its attempts to use the complexity argument to prove the existence of a creator (did you like Michael Behe's book?),

I indeed read Behe's book. It is almost as sound as the article.
I was pretty taken aback at your misconceptions of the genome.
We shall see.
First of all, complexity arguments are pretty much circular and comically fallacious, and you don't need them to prove God exists.
This is a naked assertion that is not to the point - it is the argument in the article that must be addressed and not complexity arguments in general. Likewise whether or not God exists and whether or not one can establish the existence of God in other ways is irrelevant. The fact one doesn't need this argument says nothing about whether it is sound. It's unsoundness does not make your "first of all" any better.
Secondly, the genome is FAR, FAR from a serial sequence of binary letters, since there are countless varieties of recombination, mutation, and augmentation done outside of any external influences. There are even examples of genes that function better after a frameshift mutation. The 35,000 genes you spoke of are from the open reading frames (ORFs), where there is a start codon followed by a stop codon, but there are other genes than just in ORFs.
This is simply wrong. The genome is a sequence of binary (actually quad) letters. The amount of information (in the Shannon sense) is determined by the length of the sequence after removal of redundancies. The fact that you can get different proteins by frameshifts is beside the point - the amount of information in the sequence does not change because you read it out differently. Likewise the " varieties of recombination, mutation, and augmentation" do not change the information content.
Also, the human genome is not 35,000,000 base pairs long, it is 176,649,111 base pairs long, and intergenic regions play an essential role in gene regulation and transcriptional activation/suppression.
I hadn't seen that number. Your source for it would be? The last I had heard the role of introns (I assume that they account for most of the difference) was still hotly debated. In any event the number is still about the same order of magnitude; it doesn't particularly affect the argument.
You are using a gross oversimplification and wrongful understanding of computers and electronics as well. Each location on the genome would more likely need to be represented by two bits, since it can take on four different nucleotides, five to seven once you get translated (uracil, etc.).
This too is off base; the article correctly assigns two bits to each base pair. The "five to seven" is in error; the information content of DNA is not affected by different readout modes. BTW I have, ah, a fairly good understanding of computers and electronics.
Even still though, these arguments of scale are irrelevant; you cannot reduce life to binary.
This, I take it, is an article of faith since the question is still quite open.
It is far too complex, and can take on more states than just "on" and "off."

That it can take more states than "on" and "off" is (or may be) beside the point; it is trivial to reduce multiple states to binary states. That is minor though.

The real problem, the one that the article is grounded on, is in your rather cavalier "it is far too complex". I won't even try to guess what you mean by "complex". If you mean to say that the genome is not an adequate specification of the organism then I am impressed; you have escaped the trap of genetic determinism which the article implicitly assumes and invites the reader to share.

[We shall omit a discussion of the fast shuffle that leads to the hyper-designer; you haven't quite gotten there yet.]

Trust me though, I am a Ph.D. student in genetics at Yale.
I'm sure you are a good one. None-the-less I don't trust you.
If you think this way anyway, you might like Pierre Baldi's book, "The Shattered Self."
I've never heard of it. What might it be about?
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From: Hermester Barrington (efn_archivist@yahoo.com)
Date: 11/01/2001
Subj: A fellow adventurer fabulist?

I found your webpage while seeking movies about giant reptiles:

I found it to be fascinating, since it reminded me of my own exploits. Mostly these have taken the form of reviews at Amazon.com, such as the following,

The Prince,
How to Know the Protozoa,
In Advance of the Landing : Folk Concepts of Outer Space

but I hope to publish them in book form sometime soon.

I look forward to it. I read your reviews; they were delightful. You do seem to have a talent for finding odd corners of reality. I envy that.
I'm glad to see that there are still fellow adventurers out there; it's too bad you didn't catch that kraken!
It's just as well. Krakens don't mount well on the wall.
All the best,
Hermester Barrington
Return to index of contributors From: Brian Bingham Date: 10/24/2001
Subj:
Jarhead's and other ramblings

Professor,

I am doing some Graduate research for my thesis and stumbled across your web page. Your sea stories do prove that "Once a Marine, always a Marine". You can take the boy out of North (South?) Dakota, but never remove the esprit de corps from the hippie professor....

Semper Fi

Brian K. Bingham
Gunnery Seargeant
USMC Retired

The funny thing is that I regularly get email from concerned girl friends and mothers worrying about their nearest and dearest being in the Corps. My mother didn't raise me to be a lonely hearts columnist.

Cheerily,
Richard Harter
USMC 1517593

Return to index of contributors From: Bert Herman (infstrat@ix.netcom.com)
Date: 10/24/2001
Subj:
Admirable essay: Deconstruction and Chomsky

Salud!

this essay struck my eye some 3+ months ago. rereading it is to confirm a deep satisfaction with it.

Thank you. I reread and was impressed with it myself. Apparently I could write better than I do now when I was much younger. (I have liberal notions about what it means to be much younger.)
Otherwise, all is well with me, and I am all smiles for you, but:

Perhaps chomsky is ....

"Well Noaham God made us special and gave us a specialty, language."

"Yes, papa."

[forty years later Noam c. agrees that well maybe evolution has something to do with it].

I have the impression that Chomsky took the view that the development of the capacity for language was a fortuitous freak accident. I don't think he is (or was) a creationist - after all, he can scarcely afford to believe in God.
NO! the Cambodian reds could not have made people into heaps of skulls. NO NO NO
I didn't know that they had. It's good to see that the Mongol traditions haven't gone extinct.
recent MIT lecture: You see folks, respected Moslems dislike us intensely and it's not covered in the liberal press (except for the New Yorker?). You have to read it in the unselfdeluded Wall St. Journal, chuckle chuckle. He means Al Hunt, oct. 4, and he really should have said so.
I don't read the New Yorker (it went down hill some decades ago but never had the grace to become an underground comic) or the WSJ. The latter is respectable but is not readily available in rural South Dakota where I am residing at the moment. Residing in SD is rather like residing in a third world country whilst retaining American citizenship.

Still, even here, we get some hint of what passes for news in the media and I did notice Ted Koppel (we do get televsion here) discussed moslem dissatisfaction at length. I am told that Koppel is part of the liberal media so I am not sure which rag Chomsky had in mind as the liberal press.

cripey! did I say that on the record!
I have it burned on a CD; records are passe, after all.

... continued on next rock ...

It has been decades since I actually wrote letters, thought about the "world' etc. I'd like to admit my basic ignorance when it comes to Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics.

Even so I was a lot more ignorant of chomsky the anti-Cold Warrior than of Chomsky the courageous Platonist. (Well/labels point to stuff and are convenient pegs.) I did go over to the UCB campus a few years ago, to hear him give a talk which was, I think about politics.

I would not try to pin him down. He is self-styled. I figured that if I wanted to understand him all I would have to do is read what he wrote, but it not clear that he captures himself very well in his work. That said -- and I am the first to lament its squishiness -- I did stumble into a guy who evidently thinks there is a deliberate obscurity in Chomsky, as in (the long ago) controversy over what was happening when it was happening in Cambodia.

He says Chomsky misuses authority, lies by misdirection, and that this applies to "pretty much everything Chomsky writes. It is carefully phrased to mislead the reader, and to expose his deception requires a great deal of tedious research." (Broad brush indeed!) In any case the critique is at http://jim.com/chomsdis.htm. Or, as I would not deceive, and have just discovered, it may be better to access the article by going to frontpagemag.com. A slew of anti-chomsky material and some sort of hard right politics. Let me know what you think.

I took a look at the critique; it seems to be on the money. Chomsky seems to be very one-sided in his critiques and rather unscrupulous in his rhetoric. It plays well to his audience though.

The trouble with moral indignation is that it so often is a weapon. Homo politicus is not content with dividing itself into sides. It is necessary that one's own side must be believed to be pure (a process requiring a great deal of selective blindness and much fancy footwork) and that one's chosen enemy is evil (usually a safe bet.)

Politics is not about truth. Political rhetoric is not about truth. They are about constructing realities in which one's own prejudices are truth.

Return to index of contributors From: Charles Hitchcock (hitch@ptc.com)
Date: 10/25/2001
Subj: [answer to mlo]

(I had written)

"I am going to get some black leather and vampire white makeup and become a goth. One has to keep up with the times, you know."

Current line prominent the net, T-shirts, etc: "If you're a Goth, where were you when we sacked Rome?"
Chortle. I was over in Bactria fighting the Bacteria.
Besides, I'm not sure you could be a Goth -- the model seems to be the tubercular young artist. There's not much allowance for people who have experience.
You're right; being a Goth at my age would be like trying to be a flower child. Being a flower geezer just doesn't cut it.
(I skimmed Bacon-Smith at Philcon and found her sources interesting; she appears to have relied too much on interviews with not enough people in each part of the country. But it certainly gives a better view of some of the cultural differences than you can get sitting around talking at a limited set of regionals.)
I found her book very interesting. I missed most of the 80's and 90's in fandom so I am in no position to judge the accuracy of her account. She clearly was more comfortable with the fringe fandoms than with mainstream fandom. I rather fancy NESFA is a complete mystery to her.
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From: "Eady, Susan" (susan.eady@wcom.com)
Date: 10/22/2001
Subj: Rio Hata

Looking for someone with knowledge of Rio Hata. Have pictures dating approx. 1943 with Rio Hata on back.

I can't help you very much. Rio Hata is a town and airstrip 70 miles from Panama City on Panama's Pacific coast. If my understanding is correct it was not in the Canal Zone; the US got the use of the airstrip for 15 years in a 1955 treaty. I was there as part of the training exercise in the spring of 1957. There was a permanent army detachment at the airstrip which had a few dozen men. My impression is that the town (city?) of Rio Hata (according to the map in the Brittanica Rio Hato) was not very large. I assume that the airstrip was built during WW II but that is just a guess.
Return to index of contributors From: Chumley344 (Chumley344@aol.com)
Date: 10/25/2001
Subj: self-creation

How do you handle the explanation for self-creation?

With teflon tongs. What on Earth (or off) are you talking about?

... continued on next rock ...

Bite your tongs!

I'm asking if you had an explanation for self-creation which some writers identify under the rubric of spontaneous generation or abiogenesis.

Ah. "Self-creation" is a rather misleading term, begging the question of what is meant by a self.
I got the impression from your ads that your site housed the corps d'elite of evolution who might provide me with a plausible mechanism to rationalize the transition from nonlife to life.
I haven't the foggiest of notions where you might have gotten such an impression. I run no ads and my site is a personal site. There are a host of sites dedicated to research into the technical issues of research into abiogenesis (more properly, the possibility of abiogenesis) and evolution. Be that as it may I do know a little about the subject.
From your response, I see you are no Stanley L. Jaki. However, if you are a "dark horse" of sorts, please enlighten the brethren. Kindly remove the Teflon from your tong(s)ue, and tell us how you go from inanimate to animate. I will accept non-chiral strategies and will, if merited, allow partial credit. By the by, answers dealing with an "off the Earth" theory, like panspermia, is not an acceptable answer.
I certainly hope I am no Stanley L. Jaki.

Who, by the way, is us?

The short answer to your question is that we don't know how life on Earth originated and that we have only partial information about how it could have originated under the assumption that it did originate locally and naturally. Partial information, you will appreciate, is not the same thing as no information. Attempting to reconstruct the origin of life is rather like assembling a gigantic jig-saw puzzle with no guarantee that all of the pieces are all present and no guarantee that it assembles into a picture. There is, after all, a bodacious lot of biochemistry to account for.

That said, a lot of progress has been made in past dozen years or so. Before I write several pages summarizing current research may I suggest that you look at this link.

to get a handle on the complexity of the issues. If I come up with a good overview site I will pass it on to you. Incidentally chirality is not the problem it was once assumed to be - see, for example, the work of this years Nobel prize winners in chemistry.

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From: "G VanBussel" (zenexp@interlog.com)
Date: 10/25/2001
Subj: super-obscure sci-fi trivia quiz

I am stumped by this question... if you can figure out the answer, I would be impressed.

Way back in the seventies I vaguely recall reading a sci-fi pulp paperback based on the life of English Romantic Visionary William Blake, where the different supernatural characters portrayed in his prints were actually space aliens which threatened him...

I have no memory of what the title was or who the author was. If this plot rings a bell, please lemme know.

I don't recognize it off hand but I will post a query in rec.arts.sf.written. Someone there is sure to know.

... and indeed they did. The story is Blake's Progress by R. Faraday Nelson.

Return to index of contributors From: Ephraim7 (Ephraim7@aol.com)
Date: 10/24/2001
Subj: The Facts about Genesis

Allow me to reveal to you that those who you thought were knowledgeable about Genesis and Creation were sadly unqualified. The truth of Genesis has only been known by mankind for only about 10 years. As far as I know, I am the foremost terrestrial authority on Genesis. I offer you my site.

I am certain you are the foremost terrestrial authority on your interpretation of Genesis.
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From: Brett Bane (BANE4CRUZN@aol.com)
Date: 10/27/2001
Subj: recuit

I jion the corps late sept.2001. I always wanted to do so, out of high school, but I didn't.I decided to become a diesel mechanic. I'am now 21,and join as a PFC, due to a degree I earn at a trade school.Do you have any advise for me before I go to Bootcamp?My choices for my MOS are 1)security forces,2)MP,3)Infantry.

Your advise will be greatly appreciated,

I don't have any particular advice except: Don't screw off and do your best. Always remember that lots of people have gotten through boot camp and that you will too.
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From: "Donald Cameron" (Dcameron1@btopenworld.com)
Date: 9/17/2001
Subj: Evolution and values

I enjoyed your writing on talkorigins.org

I thought you might find some interest in my recent book which explores the implications of evolution for the prospects of a scientific theory of values and ethics.

Details are www.woodhillpublishing.co.uk

I admire your courage in tackling the subject.
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This page was last updated November 19, 2001.

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