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Letters to the Editor, February 2006


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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 February 2006.

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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 1/30/2006
Subj: Report from Flynnmark

Apparently flynnd is still on vacation somewhere in Flynnmark. Regardless, it has sent the following report.

=========================

Here is a list of obvious errors in http://richardhartersworld.com/cri/2006/myfannish.html Please apply the obvious corrections.

[snip long list of blatant typoes]

Would you believe that I typed that up late at night while also destroying my kitchen and preparing to go to Italy? I hope so, it's a good story, and I'm sticking to it.

The corrections will be made fifthwith (fifthwith is a bit slower than forthwith).

... continued on next rock ...

I think that destroying one's kitchen just might be the right way to prepare for travelling to Italy, given that the Italian food in Germany is so much better than that in Italy. Or so I have heard.

The rule of thumb in Italy is that tourist restaurants are suspect, a tourist restaurant being one in which the menu is printed in both Italian and English. We had some really wonderful meals in Italy and some that, ah, well, weren't quite so wonderful.

By the way, avoid Chinese food in Germany - half an hour later and you're hungry for power.

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From: Colin Steytler
Date: 1/30/2006
Subj: On evolution!

To whomever reads this letter.

That would be me, Richard Harter
In response to your article/lamentations about fundamentalist creatonists, I write thus.
It would have been better if you had mentioned which article you were responding to; I have written quite a few articles on a surprising variety of topics.
Firstly, I do believe in a Creator of the universe, and I do believe that He created it in days. If there is no creator then what are the answers to the following questions?

Who am I? Well, no one special. Just a random being that was lucky enough to have evolved!

As a note, populations and species evolve, individuals don't. Be that as it may, I commend your perspicacious observation that you are a random being.
Where did I come from? From a rock, millions of year ago! (That is ultimately what it comes down to)
Well no, it doesn't.
Why am I here? Because I was very lucky!
You are here because I am very unlucky.
Where am I going when I die? To the earth, and get recycled.
That certainly where your body is going. As to "you", that is a different matter. If we have "souls" as part of our identity (I doubt that we do, but the matter is scarcely settled) then "we" might get reincarnated, be absorbed in the world soul, move to paradise, or any of many other possibilities.
The direct consequence of this view is that no one has a purpose, thus making life a bit of a meaningless exercise, which in my opinion is one of the main causes of depression. I would be depressed if I thought my life is woth nothing and has no ultimate purpose. Furthermore, it allows the post-modernistic view of "everything goes". Whereby whatever you think is right and would make you happy you can do, because you are the 'god' of your own universe. Hence, suicide bombings, drug problems, etc. etc. Nothing is morale anymore.
I appreciate your sentiments even though your opinions are mostly codswallop. Still, isn't it rather presumptious to demand that the universe have a grand purpose in which you have a central place? Most of us, be we atheist or Christian or Muslim or Buddhist manage to find meaning in our lives.
Lets answer these questions from a Creator point of view:

Who am I? Well, I am a child of God, made in His image and beloved of Him. I am created and planned by God.
Where did I come from? I was created abd ordained by God.
Why am I here? Because God planned for me to be here and has given me a purpose to live for in this life. Exciting hey!
Where am I going when I die? Well, I believe that you either go to heaven or to hell, for eternity.

One of the confusions you have is that you confuse body and soul. As a Christian you should clear your mind of these confusions.
Enough about the evolution thing. What concerns me most is your apparent lack of relationship with the living God, Jesus Christ. He saved me in a big way in 2003, when I found out that despite what I do, He loves me, and He wants me to live and have life abundantly. I accepted Jesus as Lord of my life and He came and changed my life, from being an unhappy, living only for the next party bloke. He has given me great friends in church and though you might think of people in church as raging religious zealouts, out to spoil a good time and condemn people, that is not what we are or supposed to do.
I expect that it is better that you be a Christian than a next party bloke. It's easier on your liver for one thing.
The fact is that we will one day die, and then where are you going. If you die in sin, well then you go to hell. If you give your heart to Jesus, He will save you and you will one day join me and Him in heaven forever. Jesus died for us on the cross, so that we can be free and saved. If yo would only accept Him in your heart and confess that He is God. Then Jesus wil come and change you and make you extremely happy. Jesus is coming, that's unavoidable. He is coming to a city near you! Heaven or hell, it is your choice to make right now! This very moment!
Er, well, I don't quite think so. I suspect that Christianity does less damage than LSD, but I don't want to muddle my mind with either one. That's just a personal prejudice of course, so don't mind me.
[snip prayers and proselyting]

Hope you made the right choice, and don't hesitate to mail me if you want to ask anything!

You know, I do believe I have made the right choice. Be that as it may, I think we have exhausted the possibilities of this exchange. I do thank you for writing though.
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From: Holly Fritchman
Date: 2/6/2006
Subj: Hugh Miller/book

Hi I have an old book written by Hugh Miller - date of book is 1856 - title: Foot-Prints of the Creator. Inside jacket has the name of John Haldeman - November 1856.

Under a picture of Miller in the beginning of the books is a notation saying - "Yours very truly - Hugh Miller"

Can you give me any information on this book???

Unfortunately I can't really tell you much about it. There is a Hugh Miller home page, www.hughmiller.org, that has a fair amount of information about the man and his work, though not as much as I would like. I tried to find a reference to the relevant John Haldeman but was unsuccessful.

Miller was a popular author in his time. He is important to those of us interested in the creationist movement because he was one of the group of writers who were both theologians and geologists at a time when it had recently become clear that the Earth was quite old and that Genesis was not factual history.

As to the value of the book I don't imagine that it is high - Miller may have been popular in his day but as far as I know he is not prized by collectors. Still, it has value, and I would commend that you treat it well.

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From: Chip Hitchcock
Date: 2/7/2006
Subj: bridge

I'm catching up slowly and tripped over Bridge I (October), in which you describe the probable distribution of 5 cards over 2 hands by

3-2 156/230 = 67.8% (20 cases) 4-1 65/230 = 28.3% (10 cases) 5-0 9/230 = 3.9% ( 2 cases)
By the binomial theorem the case count is correct but the percentages are off (s/b 62.5/31.25/6.25). Where does the 230 come from? I've been wondering at the percentages quoted by Stewart (syndicated in the local paper); is there something the binomial theorem omits, or some common reference using another branch of mathematics?
You have to take into account that the probability of a card being in one hand or the other depends upon how many cards are already known in the two hands. To take a simple example, consider the probable distribution of 3 cards in two hands. The first card may be placed in either hand. Call it hand A, with the other being hand B. To get a distribution of 3-0 the second and third cards must also be placed in hand A. When the second card is placed there are 12 places open in hand A and 13 in hand B, so the chance that it goes into hand A is 12/25. When the third card is placed there are now 11 places open in hand A and 13 in hand B so the chance that the third card goes into hand A is 11/24. Thus the probability that both go into hand A is (12/25)*(11/24) = (11/50) = 22%. The bridge players call this the principle of restricted choice, but it is really just basic combinatorics.
Coming soon, to an amusement park near you: Pascal's tetrahedron!
Given that there are no amusement parks near me, can we have a Moebius strip instead. (I leave it to the reader to decide whether a Moebius strip is a ride or a girly show.)
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From: Davida Kristy
Date: 2/6/2006
Subj: author?

Is Richard Harter the author of "Zhandivar" and "The Raven King". When were they written?

To what does "Elonian" refer?

Richard Harter (me) is indeed the author of "Zhandivar" and "The Raven King". Both were written in 1998. A third in the setting, "The keeper of her soul" also was written in 1998. There is a fourth poem in the series, "The Troll Queen", which is incomplete.

Elonia is a mythical setting, permitting both a place and time for the poems, and an atmosphere of ambiguous fractured reality as well. Elonia and Zhandivar are myths to each other but sometimes there are passages between them.

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From: barehams
Date: 1/20/2006
Subj: hey

Hi hon,

I found this recipe, and just thought I would like to have some for dinner.
Would you make it 4 me...puleeze????
call me and let me know what time dinner is at...

Luv you,
mom

Save a seat for me.
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From: 2cjb1
Date: 1/9/2006
Subj: Genetic mutation

I have read a genetics related internet page and have a question. I am wondering why exposure to mutagenic substances, or to large doses of radiation is harmful? It would seem to me that since beneficial mutations are rare, when a large number of mutations occur over a relatively short period of time in an individual, the interconected functioning of genes (some genes may produce specific proteins, or enzymes, while other genes may act as regulators switching genes "on " or "off") creates the potential for serious problems. Thus being exposed to mutagenic substances, or high doses of radiation is always harmful. Is this correct?

You are more or less correct. Cells have elaborate biological machinery for keeping DNA replication accurate. This machinery has a cost in terms of energy and quickness of cell replication. In consequence the error checking is no better than it has to be, on average. High levels of mutagens (chemicals or radiation) tend to overwhelm the machinery. This varies with species; bacteria that live in nuclear reactor cooling water have extra efficient error correction.

By the way, most mutations are neither beneficial nor harmful. Of the ones that are, most are harmful, but there is a fair number that might be either, depending on the environment.

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From: Mani Malagon
Date: 1/24/2006
Subj: (website)

What a great website. Thx for all the work.

You're welcome. May you find much in it that tickles your fancy.
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From: Chip Hitchcock
Date: 1/21/2006
Subj: 808

"Nothing can stop her, nothing can catch my 409" -- the Beach Boys. (Somebody with better Google-fu than I have, or more patience, can probably find a complete set of lyrics.)

I needed that. I really needed that, but I haven't the foggiest idea why.
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From: bauhaus
Date: 1/18/2006
Subj: (none)

Hello

Goodbye.
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From: Michel Durinx
Date: 1/13/2006
Subj: genomes and information

In your letters column (jan 2006) you wrote:

The fundamental point where you go wrong (a natural error for those of us working with computers) is to think of the genome as a program specifying the structure of the phenotype.
While I agree with the rest of that answer and overal with the whole response, it is fair to point out that this error is not so much due to the reader having a digital mind but to the research programme pushed by Dawkins' erroneous `selfish gene' viewpoint. This has distorted the money and hence view of the scientific community at large for a long time culminating into the Human Genome Project race. That failed to deliver what was expected for very obvious reasons --- start with wrong idea, don't get expected answer --- but found a multitude of other insights as collateral discoveries.

Therefore, if the casual reader of science columns gets the idea as presented for a decade by the established popularisers, and follows in their analogies and presentations, that's hardly an error... Even most biologists will still have an idea of a genotype-phenotype map, whether using it as reality or approximation.

I'm sorry, but I don't much agree. Dawkins was a proponent of the "genome as recipe" metaphor. This doen't mean, of course, that his "selfish gene" metaphor didn't inspire the "digital program" metaphor but the connection seems rather vague. The genotype-phenotype map mode of thinking has been around since the early twentieth century. It is scarcely fair to blame it on Dawkins. Likewise the concept of genome as digital program has been around ever since the discovery of the structure of DNA and the genetic code.

To tell the truth, I doubt that Dawkins has had much to do with the course of scientific research. The books that he is noted for are popularizations, and the content is too mushy to inspire research programmes.

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