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Letters to the Editor, August 2004

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 August 2004.

Some of it is a little ancient; I'm slowly catching up - very slowly.

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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 8/17/2004
Subj: an amused penny drops

For some reason the kitchen-statue story led me through euphemisms to remembering your page from several years back about the hermeneut ("Silkie"?) with the handcuffs. Had you by any chance heard that the Noreascon planning meeting a couple of weeks ago was somewhat ... enlivened ... by the main occupant of the hotel being the Fetish Flea Market? Seems they'd been tossed out of the Park Plaza (not nearly as good a hotel) for some combination of indiscretion and getting written up for it by a GLOBE columnist hard up (sorry) for ideas.

Silke Maria Weineck - "Well Met In Philadelphia".

I hadn't heard about the Fetish Flea Market. I hadn't previously known that fleas were the subject of fetishes, let alone that there were entire markets devoted to the sale of Fetish Fleas. One wonders what a flea fetishist does with the object of his erotic desire, but that, perhaps, is one of those things that one is best off not knowing. In Jurassic Park the millionaire, John Hammond, mentions that one of his first attractions was a flea circus. Precisely what is shown at a flea circus? Inquiring minds want to know, as does the attorney general.

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From: ytterbium
Date: 8/17/2004
Subj: Disasters and such

Glad you switched the Oceans-as a safety measure I assume. Picking up the western-most Canary Island(La Palma or Las Palmas) might be a bit tricky. It has two water-filled(very dangerous) volcanoes-one dormant, one that erupts about every 15 years. In the 1947 eruption an eleven foot fissure developed in the island. Nothing happened in subsequent eruptions, but if the smaller portion broke off a "soliton" wave would wash the entire East Coast and you'll be happy you moved to South Dakota. Do you know any more about this?

I don't know all that much. I did see a TV special on the matter. If I recall the details correctly - a most unlikely prospect - the island is geologically unstable, and a large chunk of the southwestern side is expected to slide into the ocean. When it does a tsunami several hundred feet high will hit the East Coast of the US. As to when this will happen I must advise you that tourist attractions frequently shut down after I visit them. I am planning to visit the East Coast as a tourist in the very near future ... while it is still there.

South Dakota is scarcely disaster proof, though. Yellowstone Park is actually the caldera of a super volcano that erupts every 600,000 years. When it blows it distributes several feet of volcano ash over the high plains. Did I mention that the last eruption was 650,000 years ago, and that the land in the park is bulging upward.

It wouldn't do to try the West Coast either. In California they are overdue for the mother of all earthquakes. In Oregon and Washington they have a number of volcanos that could blow any time. They aren't super volcanos, but you won't know the difference if you're downwind from one of them when it blows.

The South is also problematic. The Memphis fault is a time bomb waiting to rearrange the Mississippi again. And New Orleans is scheduled to drown whenever a major hurricane hits it dead on.

That's the good news. The bad news is ...

On a different subject, I have always had an uninformed but favorable view of M.I.T. I remember in your voluminous site you once remarked something about turning the guns on the Charles River around and begining firing but did not state what you find objectionable--could you elaborate?
I haven't the slightest idea what I might have written or where I might have written it. I've lost track of what is on my site, which is just as well. I am thinking of claiming that large sections of it were constructed by time travelling aliens so that I entirely disclaim responsibility for it.

Be that as it may, turning cannons loose on M.I.T. might not have been a bad idea provided that they were water cannons. In the days of yore an appreciable number of MIT students had a modest acquaintance with water and bathing. That, however, was in the days of yore when MIT coeds were creatures of legend. Nowadays there many MIT coeds; my understanding is that their presence has improved the cleanliness of MIT students no end.

Final item--of all your site the one thing I liked the best was your story of your mother's challenging of the Greek Requirement -- it was priceless.
Actually it wasn't my mother, it was someone else's mother, but it's the sort of thing that she might have done.
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From: Steve Kudlak
Date: 8/11/2004
Subj: W's Ghost.....

Oh I dunno what it was he was trying to do but it was fun to try to guess. I suspect he was a hyperpostmodernist trying to write a story in a world where supposedly all meaning in words is dead. Of course neither the words nor the people who use them for communication know this.

I have always used the following method, at least look at things people overly praise or overly condemn but avoid faint praise where they are trying to be nice.

One has questions. (The pronoun "one" has a certain satisfying ambiguity. More conventional pronouns have definiteness of person and persona. "You" and "I" are (or, being pronouns, stand for) definite people. I use the term "people" to disinguish human beings (sapient mammals comprised of some trillions of eukaryote cells and a collection of nigh well incomprehensible neurological machinery) from persons, the latter being fictive abstractions, e.g., IBM, that in some instances stand for some attributes of real human beings. At quite another pole "it" denies humanity. "It" can be an animal, a particularly redolant bit of ambergis, or a reified abstraction. Human beings, however, are never an "it", although one may be it in a game of hide and seek. "One", however, is an intermediate sort of pronoun, definitely referring to a human being, albeit one whiffing of abstraction. But I digress.)

As I say, one has questions. I suppose the "he" is the anonymous "last literary theorist" although it might be McFinister, or even the author of the review. Cascading levels of authorship makes for ambiguity, unless one takes the view that the original author, whomever he might be, is originating source for all of the acts of fiction being undertaken. Perhaps it doesn't matter.

The question, however, that I suspect "one" is after is which world. Is it the world that the "last literary theorist" lives in, or the one that he might be attempting to create?

Our "last literary theorist" is an excellent candidate for "a hyperpostmodernist trying to write a story in a world where supposedly all meaning in words is dead." The difficulty with this reading is that there is no evidence in the review that he ever writes any original fiction. Indeed it is unlikely that he would; the art of writing criticial theory and the art of writing stories are quite different; the attempt to combine often produces chimeras otherwise only found in medieval beastiaries.

So is it McFinister? May he taken as attempting to write such a story? I think not. McFinister is a hack who has elevated hackhood to artistry. As a hack he is adept a navigating the arbitrary and capricious boundaries of genre fiction. One might well argue that hyperpostmodernist fiction has its own set of aribtrary and capricious boundaries, and that McFinister is just the man to navigate them. The difficulty is that the conventions of genre fictions are rooted in banal simplicities and are therefore readily transcended, whereas the conventions of hyperpostmodernist fiction are subtly nuanced beyond all reason.

Some hold that the pursuit of profundity follows a great circle, that one begins with pre-reason, arrives at banality whilst it is still fresh, goes beyond that to rationality, beyond rationality to the transcendental, and thus back to pre-reason again. On that theory, hyperpostmodernist fiction is an originary precursor to the most banal of genre fiction. There is much to said for that theory.

I do not credit it though. I hold that the pursuit of profundity follows a great spiral, so that while one moves from pre-reason through hyperpostmodernism to a new state of pre-reason, the original state of pre-reason is not accessible. Not only can one not recapture innocence, one cannot even truly remember it. What one remembers is a fabrication composed after the fact. Similarly, when one has absorbed literary theory one can never regain the innocence of reading, or even remember that there was such a thing.

If not McFinister, then who? That leaves us only with the author of the review. On that reading, the review itself is such a fiction, and McFinister and the anonymous "last literary theorist" are but fancies. If such is the case, the review is but a deceit, and a poorly written one at that. For such a case I propose no mercy at all, but rather that the author be hunted by the hounds.

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From: Suford Lewis
Date: 8/11/2004
Subj: Radar Space-Time Adaptive Processing

Hey Harter,

Did you get one of these? I was amazed that I was still on any mailing lists that would send this out. The last time I had anything vaguely to do with STAP was 1987!

Still, you might be interested...

EURASIP Journal on Applied Signal Processing
Special Issue on Radar Space-Time Adaptive Processing

[snip remainder of soliction for papers]

Fascinating and all that. It's quite shocking to me that it has been twenty years since I've dealt with that sort of thing. I am coming to grips with L. Sprague de Camp's "The Gnarly Man" (an immortal relict Neanderthal). As the decades march relentlessly on (actually, they don't march at all, they shuffle aimlessly) all of one's knowledge of the little arts of life (there's a French word that Derrida is fond of using that means tinkering that I can't recall at the moment that you will immediately know) become obsolete. Worse, one's memories become disconnected and displaced, converting what were once soaring vibrant structures into rubble. In turn the rubble becomes cemented together forming a breccia of the mind, forming a roadway on which one can travel in the eternal now of the future on the misinformation highway.

PS: Bricolage (sp?)

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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 8/2/2004
Subj: "Harry Potter and our world"

David Erskine comes up with some fascinating bits of nonsense -- I'd call it "elitist" but "unthought" may be more balanced. I'd particularly like to see how he documents

Scientists (wizards) have been offering ordinary people (Muggles) the chance to move towards an automate Arcadia for the last fifty years. The Muggles have rejected this offer. They actually prefer the global business world we live in.
, considering all the tech toys have been adopted by a substantial majority of the consumers with the money to adopt them.
The Automated Arcadia has the feel of early twentieth century utopianism in the style of H.G. Wells. It has been quite some fifty years since I've read Men Like Gods but it has the feel of it.

I'm not so sure, though, that your point about tech toys is on the mark. Mining technology for toys is a crass business sort of thing, appealing to the pursuit of sensation on the consumer end, and the debasement of science on the producer end.

Still, I don't see the "wizards" offering much of anything, either in Rowlings' world or in mundania. There have been visionaries trumpeting the potential of Arcadia. The wizards, however, are mostly focused on their art, er, research, with the occasional timeout for a biotech IPO.

Perhaps he derives this from his later
Mechanization and automation have largely eliminated manual labour.
; it's possible to claim that mechanization has eliminated \muscle/ labor (in economies with enough money for it), but that just means that there's more room for manual services (at least the unexportable ones), from improved health care through skydiving instruction to personal training -- not to mention the ones that can't be automated at all, such as plumbing repair.
That's the point, isn't it - there is more room for something other than manual labour. What has happened is that consumption has become variegated; the consumer society expands needs and services indefinitely. None of this is Arcadia; it is merely we swine disporting ourselves in ever more elaborate pens.

There is a problem, though. What exactly is it that they do in Arcadia? One has this vision of people sitting around thinking deep thoughts and playing the lyre; it is not a terribly inspiring vision.

His vision of extracting the bright ones from "Muggle" society doesn't seem to allow for the converse -- dropping dull "wizards" -- which has been the failing of every aristocracy so far. C. M. Kornbluth (in "The Little Black Bag" et al.) espoused a segregation by intelligence (possibly due to a belief in the absolute rule of genes in intelligence), but he at least could see the implausibility of a no-exit aristocracy (cf Lee Falcaro (in THE SYNDIC) contrasting her Family and the Regans); similarly, I recall Gould (among many others) talking about how rarely the children of geniuses are geniuses themselves.
If one takes the view that the wizards and the muggles are of equal intelligence, making due allowance for the brain-damaged and the politicians, the difference really lies in motivation and desire. On this view the "wizards" are wizards because they are raised to it. Perhaps the occasional geniuses are exceptions; the foot soldiers of the meritocracy aren't much brighter than the scaff and raff. I don't believe that this is quite the case, but I shouldn't be surprised if there were something to it.

That said, creating a separate society doesn't sound terribly feasible. If John Galt couldn't pull it off, no one can. You want the real truth about Atlas Shrugged? John Galt was a goat leading the malcontents to the concentration camps.

And a world population of 100 million would probably solve a number of environmental issues, but getting there would be bloody at best and probably catastrophic. I would expect everything to go pear-shaped if >98% of the population were wiped out; a gradual decrease at any serious rate has its own problems e.g. what happens to rest-home staffing if each successive generation is substantially smaller? This is just as destabilizing as a South Asian quote I've heard that a man should have eight children -- because 4 will die young, half the survivors will be girls, and a man needs two sons to support him in his old age.
Stability is an illusion that seldom lasts a life time.
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From: ytterbium
Date: 7/17/2004

Good, while speeding up the regression of Niagara Falls by a factor of ten is no mean feat, it pales in comparison to picking up the Canary Islands and transporting them half-way around the world. Again, love your site--in another millenium or so, could we have some more "Reincarnation Game."

Ha, little do you know - I switched oceans behind the scenes. Now I suppose you will want me to put them back.

I doubt that I will get back to the Reincarnation Game until mid to late September. In case you didn't catch it, the last page added was:


Perhaps I have been a little overly enthusiastic in composing the last few entries - some of them seem to have spun wildly out of control, particularly the army brat.

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From: Jim Gilardi
Date: 7/22/2004
Subj: Marsupials

Before concluding the evolution of a posterior pouch isn't possible have you stopped to consider the genetics involved in pouch development? Flies grow legs out of their eyes (as one of hundreds of examples) due to small changes in control genes. Small changes in the control genes of pouch development can easily account for what you say is not possible. Do you have training in genetics to make such bold conclusions or do you simply rely on common sense (you know, the stuff that makes it appear the earth is flat and the sun moves across the sky). Wishful thinking, not rational or critical thinking on your part. A common trait of creation science and a good example of don't trust what you find on the internet.

It's always good to hear from an expert on the subject. Er, you are an expert, aren't you? I do hope so. I should hate to be reprimanded by someone who wasn't an expert.

I quite agree with you about not trusting what you find on the internet. I know this will shock you, but there are rascals with warped senses of humor out there who will say almost anything that amuses them.

... continued on next rock

I've been burned by my own stupidity. I misread your marsupial pouch story which I stumbled upon searching for info on marsupial evolution. Creationists have turned me into a lunatic and I'm guilty of doing what I accuse them of -- speaking without thought. As I should have done in the first place I just visited your web site and I enjoyed it. Please excuse my ignorance - a lesson learned on my part.

Not a problem. You're not alone. That little bit of bogus reasoning burnt quite a few people when I ran it through the talk.origins news group. Anyway, I'm pleased that you enjoyed my "little" web site.
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From: Marly Youmans
Date: 7/22/2004
Subj: young adult fantasy

Thought you might like to take a look at my Adantis books for your Young Adult Fantasy list; they came out after the list was made. See the "Raven Mocker" and "Ingledove" pages on www.marlyyoumans.com.

Thanks for the heads up. I looked at your web site and found the descriptions interesting. When I get the chance I will check them out.
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From: Jason
Date: 7/25/2004
Subj: Link Exchange

I would like to offer you a link exchange for 2 sites this would be mutually beneficial and I hope you will consider it.

1. Holy Cow Now Hydroponics and Gardening Supplies


Visit our store or come shop online we have it all Free 23Liter Grow, Micro and Bloom with $200 Purchase.

2. Advanced Nutrients Plant Nutrients Manufacturer


The world's leader in plant specific nutrients

I don't exactly do link exchanges, this being a horribly non-commercial site and all that, but I'm sure that at least some of my readers would delight in the name, holycownow.com. I certainly do.

Your offer is certainly appreciated and will be honored to the extent that it appears in my letter column. All things being equal (which they never are of course) I would just as soon you didn't put up a link to my site - I get quite enough traffic as it is, thank you - unless, of course, you actually visit it and find it amusing or interesting and want to pass on the source of your delight to your fellow human beings.

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From: Chris Stringer
Date: 7/28/2004
Subj: Piltdown Man update

Folks, You might be interested in my recent Piltdown article , plus the January 2004 British Archaeology



Thanks for the heads up. Your conclusions seem reasonable. Walsh may have overdone the "Dawson was a twister" bit, but he doesn't seem to have been the most savory of sources. We shan't, I think, ever know what part, if any, Hinton played in the affair. Hinton as sole conspirator simply isn't supportable on the evidence. Hinton as co-conspirator with Dawson doesn't fit either.

The notion that he pretty much thought Piltdown to be a forgery is likely true. He may have been playing self important twit, or he may have tossed in a few bogus bones to stir things up.

The information about the Piltdown-II molar is quite significant.

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This page was last updated August 17, 2004.

table of contents
August 2004 TOC
Archived letters
Index of Contributors