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May 2004 TOC
Archived letters
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Letters to the Editor, May 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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 May 2004.

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

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From: Jane Austin Bruckner
Date: 5/18/2004
Subj: More information

Want to know more about this Jane Austin. What were her parents names and were they related to the Massachusetts or Virginia Austin's. Was she ever married? Did she have children? Who published her works ?

I regret to inform you that Jane Candace Eleanor Austin, popularly known as Calamity Jane Austin, is a complete and utter fabrication. That said, the answers to your questions are:

Her parents were named Abraham and Rebecca Austin. They claimed to have been related to the Virginia Austins; however the connection has never been substantiated. She was never married, but did have one daughter, Katherine Austin.

Her publishers were varied. Two of her works were published by private subscription. The bulk were split equally between Rand McNally and Peter Fenelon Collier, with the exception of Raiders of the Purple Sage, which was published by Harlequin Romances. As noted in the bibliography, her short fiction was published in The Saturday Evening Post, and in The Tattler. Her autobiography, The Yellow Rose of Texas, was published by the Texas State Historical Society.

Y'r ob'd etc etc,
Richard Harter

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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 5/18/2004
Subj: Hydrogen Beer

My Dear Mr. Harter!

This beer has a number of problems, most of which are documented at snopes.com. You'll find an amazingly plump version of the story at http://www.iis.com.br/~cat/infoetc/390.htm

Ha! I imagine that you thought that I can't read Portuguese. You would be right - I can't. However babelfish does a passable job of translation. You may be sure that I shall never attend a Karaoke bar where they serve Hydrogen Beer.
but (as you can see by looking at it) it's mostly useless. Hydrogen in air is explosive at concentrations between 4% and 75%.
Whereas folly is explosive at much lower concentrations.

... continued on next rocks ...

> Ha! I imagine that you thought that I can't read Portuguese.
Well, yes. But I'm aware that there are several other languages you cannot read, either. I wasn't just picking on the Brazilians.
Weisenheimer: I can read every language but Greek.
Buffoon: Oh, good. Will you read this German newspaper for me.
Weisenheimer: Sorry, it' all Greek to me.

(Old vaudeville schtick)

How are you at Albanian? Dr. Lewis has an Albanian phrasebook, if you ever need one. Not that he's given me permission to snatch it from his paws and lend it out, I should warn you.
I have seen the phrasebook and have even read sections of it. Lamentably I didn't think to memorize it. If ever I am kidnapped by Lust Crazed Albanian Dwarfs I shall be at a loss as to what to say to them.
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From: Michel Durinx
Date: 5/9/2004
Subj: Vampire cats"

I had written:

The only Steven King books that I've read are the Gunslinger books, so I wouldn't know what is in "pet sematary". Are they vampire cats or merely things that seem like cats?
Hm... I've read the book 2/3rds of my lifetime ago. If I remember correctly, there's a road next to a house while on the other side of the road there's an forgotten Indian cemetery. The family's cat is quite early killed off in the story [probably it demanded too high wages]. The children discover the burial ground, misspell it, and put the cat there... so it comes back zombie-fashion, really smelling bad, resembling a dirty version of itself [read: be replaced by cheaper, lookalike actor], but having a very bad character indeed.

So it's not a vampire, but a zombie. And it drives some people to death, I cannot imagine how --- some reader will remember.

Zombies are undead by most reckonings, even if they aren't vampires. I suppose one can quibble about the rules for being a vampire. Dracula was an undead human who fed on the blood of living humans. However one doesn't have to be undead nor is one restricted to the blood of one's own species - witness the vampire bat. Simply living one blood doesn't cut it though - nobody talks about vampire mosquitos or vampire leeches. Maybe the rule is that you have to be a mammal in order to be a vampire. I suspect that there may be a rule of dignity of prey also. One could give credence to vampire cats that live on the blood of humans, but scarcely credit vampire cats that live on the blood of chickens.
By the way, there's also the cat people films --- they're were-cats killing people to turn back into humans, so that counts as vampires! I've seen the oldest version only, being set on an obvious cardboard stage but with some audience members blacking out from scary realism --- a public still used to using its imagination as required for theatre.
Theatre has the advantage of true three dimensionality.
Note: 'thank you' would be 'bedankt' in Dutch, but 'merci' in Flemish... I'm an barely tolerated foreigner in this 'norms&values' country the last few years.
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From: rrippe
Date: 5/16/2004
Subj: where are you ?

I need your opinion. Call me asap.

Dear Asap,
I doubt that you need my opinion, but here it is anyway - you should send email to the right email address.
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From: Anne Conkling
Date: 5/14/2004
Subj: Poetry

Sir: would e mail be forwarded to Mr. Harter?

Email addressed to cri@tiac.net is not forwarded to Mr. Harter - it is received by Mr. Harter who rather naturally wants to know what it is you might want.

... contintued on next rock ...

Good day...I want to compliment you on your thoughts, words, work, philosophy, search, poetry, and style. I found your site quite by accident (though I know there are no accidents in this life), and have been delightedly quoting your work ever since. Are your books sold in VA? Do you sell direct? Are there ISBN numbers I need to know? How long have you been writing?

Blush, blush. Your kind words are music to my ears. I regret to say that none of my works are yet in book form, although I do have some manuscripts awaiting transition to the printed page. I will be delighted to let you know when any of them arrive at that happy destination.
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From: Mark A Harris
Date: 5/10/2004
Subj: Signs of the End of Days

I thought I was the only one who had gotten creeped-out by these little mutants. This is a site extolling some of the virtues(???) of this particular marketing campaign. I found it curious that they said, "Well at least it's not horse flatulence..." Has it been reduced to finding the lowest and strangest of gimmicks just to sell products now?


The horse flatulence ad was a beer commercial during the superbowl. I don't recall it though. I doubt that it was anything more than sophomoric humor whereas the mutants are creepy.

Apparently there are people for whom the ad really works. I opine (snicker) that I shall never eat at a Quiznos sub shop; I wouldn't want to be mistaken for one of those people.

Also on a side note, I remember from a previous correspondence we shared that you spoke of your affinity for the word "opined". Now that you've "opined" my eyes to it (sorry for the horrible pun) I have noticed it's use by several other web-authors, most notably James Randi. It's like one of those pleasant jingles that gets stuck in your head. Do you remember when companies used pleasant jingles, as opposed to discordant mutant "spokescreatures"?
The nice thing about "opine" is that it is a precise term, much to be preferred to "feel" and "think". "I feel" is best reserved for the state of one's health and one's emotions. Thus: "I feel nauseous" would be an appropriate description of one's reaction to the Quiznos ad. And, of course, "I think" is all too often merely presumptious.
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From: Maurice Fairfield
Date: 5/6/2004
Subj: Theatre days.

At 09:17 PM 5/6/04 +1000, you wrote: Thanks for getting back. Love your prose style although I think my poetry may have an edge. You are right about acting: It's a great source of anecdotes which I don't propose to bore you with. I had a stage career in the early fifties - blew in there while drunk as well, but stayed for the plentiful supply of pretty young women. I was nearly the only straight guy in the business and I was soon hunted down like a dog, married and a father. That was fifty years ago. If I'd mudered someone the'd have let me out by now. Ho, Hum. nice meeting you, Maurice Fairfield.

Hunted down like a dog, eh? No wonder your poetry has an edge.

I suppose there are a lot of us who on the stage at one time or another in our lives. Every once in a while I talk to someone who bores, er fascinates, me with the details of their acting career instead of listening to my much more interesting account.

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From: Michel Durinx
Date: 4/23/2004
Subj: evoloonies

Reading through your letters column, I get the feeling that your advice-policy is not optimal. For example, your advice to someone coming up with a simulation proving that natural selection cannot change phenotypes since only discrete numbers of offspring are possible ( http://richardhartersworld.com/~cri/2003/let03sep.html#Bucska ) gets the usual sensible "I'm not gonna discuss evolution over email" response, followed by the "go bother talk.origins" advice which I would object to. It is like sending people to Iraq when they come up with a query about Islam in civil society: a discussion group filled with experienced fundamentalists on both sides, some other old timers who have learned to duck their heads from time to time, plus the additional cannon fodder like you tend to send in there...

You have a point there. For many years I followed talk.origins avidly. For the past few years, though, I only look at it sporadically or not at all. I'm not sure whether this is because I've matured (if I have I seem to have taken an extraordinarily long time about it) or whether it has gotten sillier over the years. For a certainty the volume has increased.

Still, the advice in this instance to go to talk.origins wasn't all that bad. I grant that there are many howler monkeys who contribute little beyond sniping. However there are still some who will respond in substance to a real inquiry.

In the mail in question, for example, an argument hinges on a silly sophism that is contradicted by things even a creationist would admit as evidence. Any demographic model or survey comes up with broken amounts of offspring --- say 2.4children/family --- as they are probabilities. [ The "rounding off the dimes" argument could easily be used to prove there are no humans on earth, except possibly those we *all* accept to have existed --- the ones in the Bible, of course --- though they might have died in the meantime. You see, you have to look per year. How many children per year does a woman beget? Well, it's clearly below 1, so say (random number) .3578 children per year. As only whole numbers of children are produced, each year the child is "rounded off to the dime" and there are no children (rounding up would of course lead to some 50 children/woman, equally implausible). So either every generation gives a 50-fold increase in the population, or no children are born at all. But argumentation means "discussing evolution in email". ] So pointing to, for example, the CIA factbook http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html [quote "Andora: fertility rate: 1.27 children/woman (2003 estimate)"] would answer the mail without sending a correspondent into a battle zone.
I didn't read his reference to rounding that way. I thought it was just an irrelevant analogy. Upon rereading, you may be right - he may be assuming that a probability of .01 means that it happens exactly 1% of the time. Then again, he might not be. His summary of results is incoherent at best; capital letters are not a good substitute for reason.
Obviously there are other tricks and errors in the argumentation and similar efforts, but they can be refuted by referring to less contentious places like demography or ecology 101-type resources. These have the benefit of being more driven by simple observances than religeous/philosophical insights. After all, if you want to see selection and evolution happening in a bottle you see it, if you want to see its impossibility or futility you will see it. That's the gist of the american creationism schtick, I feel.
I'm skeptical of the value of referring to less contentious places. Your suggestion works for people who are willing to ask, "Am I wrong?" and are willing to consider the possibility. Most crackpots lack that willingness.
As always enjoying your digital output,
Gracias. What is Dutch for "Thank you"?
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From: Michel Durinx
Date: 5/7/2004
Subj: vampire cats

At 06:57 PM 5/7/04 +0200, you wrote: re: http://richardhartersworld.com/cri/2004/let04may.html#Tremblay specifically:

The texts never consider undead cats. Now that I think on it, I've never heard of a vampire cat.
what about the very undead cats in King's 'pet sematary' ?
The only Steven King books that I've read are the Gunslinger books, so I wouldn't know what is in "pet sematary". Are they vampire cats or merely things that seem like cats?
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From: OwlzCatz
Date: 5/1/2004
Subj: Well....

I like you! Your site is just marvelous. I cannot remember how I got to it, however it is very fun. I'm a 60-year-old chick with an IQ of 135. But believe me, I know nothing! Absolutely nothing! You remind me of all those smart guys in college. Beard, sense of humor! Terrific! You keep on keeping on!

Thank you for the kind words. My theory on life is that I will pack all it in when I get everything done. The problem is that not only haven't I got everything done, I keep getting further and further behind. I figure that it will take me around a thousand years to become a centenarian.
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From: Heidi Mueller
Date: 4/17/2004
Subj: How much is that doggy in the window

Did Rosemary Cloony ever sang that song? Thank you. Heidi

I don't know. Maybe one of my readers knows. I am told that Patti Page did it originally.
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From: Maurice Fairfield
Date: 5/4/2004
Subj: Piltdown man

Stumbled into your site accidentally when drunk. Enjoyed it no end.

You can enjoy it while sober also. However I recommend drunk.
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From: Bruce Corbett
Date: 5/5/2004
Subj: Fields of hell

For some reason, while playing on the net, I though of some poems I wrote many years ago. I wrote search 1, search 2, and so on. I found them there; something of mine will exist for a long time. Then I remember how I always kept a copy of "fields of hell". Somewhere along the way I lost it. I searched Groups on google, but could not find the whole poem, then I search web on google, and there it was. Thanks for taking the time to put it up there.

You're welcome. I put many things on the web on the chance someone might find them.
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From: Francois Tremblay
Date: 4/25/2004
Subj: disproof of the existence of God

I have just read your evolution vs Creationism section. I am still reeling. Some of the things you have thought of are mind-boggling. Incredible stuff.

I am curious however. I have made a syllogism out of your argument "A new disproof of the existence of God" (at http://richardhartersworld.com/cri/2002/disproof.html ). It is an airtight argument that I intend to add to my book "Handbook of Atheistic Apologetics".

However, I am not convinced of the truth of your premise "divine omniscience would have the effect of collapsing all quantum superpositions because His knowledge effectively observes all phenomena". Could you please specify how omniscience is the equivalent of "observation" as we understand it in quantum physics ?

It is not so clear that we understand observation in quantum physics. At least it is quite clear that my understanding is limited. Still, I can make observations on the subject.

One way to look at the matter is to think of observation as interaction. Consider Schrodinger's cat in a box thought experiment. In it there is a box completely sealed off from the outside world. Within the box there is a cat, a source of poison gas, a radioactive source, a geiger counter, and a switch. When the counter gets a set level of counts the switch is thrown releasing the gas, which kills the cat.

We ask: If we open the box will we find a dead cat or a living cat. (The truth is that the cat will be alive; it will have batted at the equipment and disabled it. However we are talking physics here and not cats.) The answer is that it might be either - the life and death of the cat depends on the number of counts registered by the geiger counter, and that is a sample of one from a probability distribution.

Still, if we open the box we either find a dead cat or a live cat. (The texts never consider undead cats. Now that I think on it, I've never heard of a vampire cat.) Now let us ask what is in the unopened box. We do not know whether the cat is dead or alive, but surely we know that it is either dead or alive. Right?

Wrong. The cat is neither dead nor alive as a definite state. Its psi function is distributed between the two states. (Plus some tunneling. I wonder what it means to do quantum tunneling between life and death.) It is the interaction (the opening of the box) that collapses the quantum superpositions.

Now God is supposedly omniscient, knowing past, present, and future. God supposedly is outside time and space. Being outside time and space He could observe without interaction. That is He could observe the uncollapsed psi function whilst the box was sealed and its collapse when it is opened. He can do all this provided that His "observation" is outside space and time, i.e., He does not interact with the universe.

That, however, is not the case. It is given that He interacts with the universe from time to time. His interaction, however brief, however limited, carries with it an implicit observation of all that was, all that is, and all that will be. That observation enters the universe with Him, collapsing all quantum superpositions.

I would be forever in your debt.
I suspect that you don't owe me much. :-)
Francois Tremblay
Nice site.
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From: Jenni Jensen
Date: 4/25/2004
Subj: Piltdown man

I'm doing a paper for my college archaeology class. I was wondering if you could e-mail me more information about Piltdown man? I know nothing about it. That is why I chose this topic. It's more interesting, in my opinion, to write about something I know absolutely nothing about. Thank you very much!

Why don't you take a look at my piltdown man pages at http://richardhartersworld.com/cri_a/piltdown/piltdown.html .

They should give you more than a good start.

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This page was last updated May 21, 2004.

table of contents
May 2004 TOC
Archived letters
Index of Contributors