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Letters to the editor, October 2008

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 October 2008.

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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 15 October 2008
Subj: Edgeworths

Your correspondent, Dr. A. E. Edgeworth, just might be the same as Dr. Arv Edgeworth, a prominent person among creationists. If so, one questions why he avoided his unusual first name in writing to you, and avoided mentioning creationism vs evolution directly.

It is the same. His email address say Arv but he signed it Dr. A. E. I thought he might be a relative of A. E. VanVogt. Avoiding mentioning creationism vs evolution directly is standard practice with these chaps. I think the plan is to get on stage in any way possible; it doesn't matter whether the audience is throwing tomatoes at you.
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From: Willis Cummings
Date: 10 October 2008
Subj: ProclaimMyself against the level.

I was very late more near her. As thornsAnd be as sweet as. A truths a truth the[Reads].

I almost said the same thing myself, but then I woke up.
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From: Richard Amirault
Date: 14 October 2008
Subj: Science Fiction Fandom (yours & mine)

I ran across your (sub) webpage when doing a Google search for "Science Fiction Fandom" & "David Gerrold"

I don't know if you've heard about my show ... also called "Science Fiction Fandom" but it is a TV show for my local cable access TV channel in Malden. I also have a web page and put every show on the web for viewing in streaming (Real Player) video. http://bostonfandom.org

Mostly I go to various cons in the Boston area and tape, mostly panels . but occasionally other things. I am a member of NESFA .. but not an "active" member.

PS I'm surprised that "tiac" is still around. I think it was my very first ISP .. *way* back when.

You may be the only person who discovered my web site by doing a google search for "Science Fiction Fandom" & "David Gerrold". Give yourself a gold star for originality.

I hadn't heard about your show but it's quite neat. (I'd rather date myself by using "neat" rather than make a fool of myself by using a synonym that is just out of fashion.)

The tiac company is long gone. However the domain name and the customer base have gone through a series of owners. My current ISP is earthlink; personally I think they should change their name to The Internet Access Company, but I dare say they will ignore my excellent suggestion.

In any event I thank you for writing. Unless you object I will add a link to your website on my fandom page.

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From: Dr. A. E. Edgeworth
Date: 13 October 2008
Subj: Harmful mutations and Peppered Moths

I noticed you said a mutation changed light moths into dark moths in England. From everything I have read concerning this, that is not correct. The moths did not change, just the environment. It was just a shift in the population. According to many scientists you are wrong about most mutations not being harmful also. A helpful mutation would be very rare, if any exist. Can you name a mutation that actually improved the life form? Harmful mutations are readily observed, but not helpful ones. But whether harmful or just neutral, it still causes a net loss of genetic information over time. What is the source of a net gain of new genetic information over time? What is the mechanism for creating new genetic information? If everything started at net zero, where does the new stuff come from? Rearranged stuff is not the same as new stuff.

As a general rule I don't conduct extended debates about evolution is email. However I do appreciate your writing, and I am happy to answer at least this once. I am assuming that your comments are based on my article, "Are mutations harmful".

To begin with, I want to thank you for calling my attention to some careless wording. In one place I wrote, and I quote, "... a mutation which changed light moths into dark moths ... ". You are quite right, the mutation doesn't change the color of the moth; what the mutation does is change what the color of moth's offspring will be.

As a note it wasn't just a shift in the population; if there weren't the occasional mutation, there would have only been one version of moth.

I wonder who these "many scientists" might be that say that most mutations are harmful. To be frank, I don't think that they exist except in the pages of creationist propaganda.

You ask if I can name a mutation that actually improved the life form. In the article I mentioned several. Read the rest of the article.

Your comments about loss of genetic information are not correct. In general, viable mutations do not destroy genetic information, they change it. I will commend to you the section on specificity which you may find enlightening.

... continued on next rock ...

Hi Mr. Harter,
I guess we are reading from different scientific sources. The information I read didn't indicate the light colored moths started giving birth to dark colored moths. Both light colored moths and dark colored moths existed before they started burning coal in their factories. As the trees turned dark, more of the light colored moths were being eaten, thus the dark colored moths were able to survive better, and produced more offspring. If it were true as you indicate that the light colored moths started producing dark colored offspring, which I don't believe was the case, why would that be considered a mutation? If they actually did start producing a different colored offspring, so that they could survive, wouldn't that be because of pre-existing genetic information that allowed for that type of change, so that life forms can adapt to changes in their invironment? I would like to share a few quotes with you:

[snip remainder]

As I remarked earlier, I don't usually argue about evolution in email, and I am not going to in this case. However, I will make a few final remarks about those peppered moths. Yes, both light and dark moths existed before they started burning coal. However the dark moths were very rare, so rare that there were only a handful of observations of them prior to the industrial revolution. The light colored moths didn't start producing dark colored moths so that they could survive; I nowhere suggested any such silliness. The genetics of the peppered moth has been studied. There are actually two genes involved - either can produce a dark colored moth. Each has a light and dark allele. If both alleles are light, the moth is light; if one of them is dark, the moth is dark. There are simple mutations that change one allele to another; the mutations are reversible.

The whole point of the peppered moth example is that it is a good example of natural selection. You are quite right that there was pre-existing genetic information. There had to have been; natural selection can only operate on existing variation in the population. The role of mutation in evolution is to act as a source of new variation in populations; the changes produced by mutation are random. The role of natural selection in evolution is to select the more successful variations.

N.B. After I blew him off, Edgeworth sent a followup email in which he declared himself the victor, just as he has been in all of his other encounters with evolutionists. I suppose he is -- in his mind.

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From: jamison loyola
Date: 12 October 2008
Subj: mihran kimon patti

chang-ji
ernesto lucky

I pleased to hear that ernesto is lucky; I suppose he must have a lot of chang-ji. Does he get it from mihran kimon patti?

Why me, Lord? And whatever happened to dude?

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From: Nancy C
Date: 10 October 2008
Subj: Enjoyed your site

Mr. Harter,

I just want to let you know that I happened upon your web site and found it quite enjoyable. I've been browsing it for so long that I no longer remember how I happened upon it to begin with!

Anyway, I hope you continue to update your site with your insightful blurbs and tales. I'll be visiting every now and then to see what's new in your world.

Thanks for writing. If one writes, I suppose there always is the hope that people will read what you write and perhaps even find it of interest or of value. If one is publishing a journal for which people pay money, their interest has been validated with cold, hard cash. (Though, in these days cash is neither cold nor hard, being mostly bits in computer memory.) If one writes and is published in some media that pays its writers one again has negotiable evidence that people found one's writings of interest.

Matters are different for those of us who publish on the web. No one pays me to do this so I have no negotiable evidence of interest. (I may be doing something wrong.) In some respects the web is a wonderful venue for we amateur expounders of wit and wisdom. My words are available to an audience of billions. According to my ISP my site gets close to two million visitors a year. Surely I must have an appreciative audience out there ... and, yet, that audience is invisible to me. Worse, I know that some significant fraction of those visitors are computers endlessly indexing the web. Thus it is that I am always delighted to hear from my readers and delighted to know that at least some human beings like what they have read.

So, again, thank you for writing.

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From: Linda Pringle
Date: 10 October 2008
Subj: personal God

truthis Jesus,either was God,or a liar . He is either dead or alive . If dead you might be right However if Bible is true ,and in it 500 plus witnesses claimed to have seen him alive after the crucifiction.Maybe you could just ask him if he is alive. I have met many people who in doing so changed their minds

Well Linda, it's like this: Once upon a time I asked God if He existed, and He told me that He didn't. I took his word for it. After all, who am I to argue with God?
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From: DR. J. ALVA SCRUGGS
Date: 8 October 2008
Subj: McCain AND THE DIRTY TRICKS OF ROVE ARE COMING SOON TO A VOTING BOOTH NEAR YOU!!

As the world and we as fellow Americans all notice the McCain campaign for the Presidency may be in trouble. All the polls indicate that Obama and company may be elected in a landslide!! Therefore, American will probably see one of the most dirty trick efforts ever played by the greatest Dirty Trick team in history-The Karl Rove Machine!!! (BILL DRAPER, Missouri officials suspect fake voter registration. Associated Press, Oct 8 2008)

It is easy to list some of what Obama can be expect in this push by McCarran to win:

  • The catching of Ban Laden,
  • A natural disaster in which McCain, Cindy, Sarah, Bush, Cheney, and the other Federal Agencies will make a long intense and highly visible process in solving this crisis.
  • The come back of the Financial Market spearheaded by the big money criminals.
  • The lowering if the price of gasoline to two dollars per gallon.
  • The start of another war maybe with Iran.
  • The demise of a family member and long highly visible period of moaning.
  • The fixing of the voting by purging Democrats and Blacks, using the Dibold Voting Machines to miscount votes, Throwing out absentee votes, loosing ballot boxes/
  • The winning of the Iraqi war.
  • Starting rumors to scare voters from the polls (e. g. Must be dressed tight, must have a lot of identification, etc)
  • Etc.
All these are real possibilities and a reality that must not be pushed aside in disbelief! Be assured there are other things that may be done, things that are beyond the imagination of normal Americans!

What do you think??

What do I think? I think you are a real nut, that's what I think.
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From: Jim McBeth
Date: 8 October 2008
Subj: piltdown man

I'm Jim McBeth, a writer with the Daily Mail in Scotland

I'm doing a piece about Piltdown Man with reference to the possible involvement of Arthur Conan Doyle in the hoax.

I see from the net that you have made a study of the subject

I wondered what your thoughts were on the involvement of ACD

The arguments for his involvement are interesting but not really convincing. Although I presented everyone's theories on the website, I think it is clear that Dawson was a principal in the affair. It is open to question whether there was anyone else involved in the hoax. It is conceivable that Doyle recognized Dawson for what he was and thought it would be a capital go if Dawson would pull off a truly magnificent hoax. However the people who argue for Doyle being involved argue for him being the sole hoaxer, and that just won't wash.
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From: Tom Weatherby
Date: 5 October 2008
Subj: Your site

Under the "winning an argument, another good one is to repeat the statement back.

Peruvians don't make enough money.

You would say, in a slower questionable response, "they don't make enough money?"

Puts them on defense. But I stilll like your part about the liquor. I'll give it a shot . . . or two.

I like it. It's a nice way to say, "You're kidding, right? You're really saying they don't enough money? Come on, you've got to be kidding." without actually using the words. Let them fill in the blanks.
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From: Governor Mike Huckabee
Date: 4 October 2008
Subj: Wall Street Goes Trick-or-Treating Early

Dear Huck PACkers-

I wanted to write you to convey my disgust with the passing of this 451 page bailout bill. Wall Street has gone trick-or-treating in Washington a little bit early this October. Wall Street is getting the treats and America is getting tricked. The “Axis of Arrogance” has tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the Main Streeters and in doing so hid a sty full of pork in a bill whose constitutionality is questionable at best. Friends, the folks in Washington continue to treat your wallet as their tip jar and this has to stop.

Just check out a few provisions in this bill:

Sec. 211. Transportation fringe benefit to bicycle commuters

Sec. 308. Increase in limit on cover over of rum excise tax to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Sec. 309. Extension of economic development credit for American Samoa.

Sec. 312. Deduction allowable with respect to income attributable to domestic production activities in Puerto Rico.

Sec. 317. Seven-year cost recovery period for a motorsports racing track facility.

Sec. 322. Tax incentives for investment in the District of Columbia.

Sec. 325. Extension and modification of duty suspension on wool products; wool research fund; wool duty refunds.

... blah, blah, blah ...

Apparently there is a person named Richard Harter who lives in Georgetown, South Carolina. At sometime in the past the persons who construct email lists confused that Richard Harter with me and got our email addresses mixed. As a result I get his spam and I suppose he gets some of mine - but not all of it, you may be sure. This explains why I am on the Huckabee mailing list. Since Governor Huckabee sends me email I think it is only fair that I publish some of it.

I'm not sure what he is complaining about, though. Granted that the credit markets are in chaos, and that the stock market is reliving 1929, but we have to retain a sense of perspective. Bicycle commuters are important too. Governor Huckabee should know this; after all, he is an ardent campaigner for an active, healthy lifestyle. I think it is admirable that in this moment of crisis Congress should look beyond the immediate moment and take into account the needs of the future.

Yours for cheaper rum.

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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 2 October 2008
Subj: Renumbering the editorials

Your scheme for numbering your editorials runs out fairly quickly, in about 900 months. That'll be only 45 years after the Unix 32-bit date field overflows.

Wait, you'll have implemented the san language by then, and will have used it to develop an algorithm for automatic and retroactive correction of poorly specified sequential fields, wherever they may be found.

Sorry to have bothered you with a non-issue.

How did your find about that? That's supposed to be a deep dark secret between me and my corporate sponsors. Speaking of which, their last check came back from the bank marked "insufficient funds". This seemed strange to me because Megalithic Corporation is, so to speak, rock solid, so I called the bank. The bank manager explained that the insufficient funds weren't Megalithic's, they were the bank's.

Do I read your latest as a jibe at the glacial pace of development of San? Rest assured, progress is being made. Recently I wrote and tested the process engine that handle all of those bits of code talking to each other. All that is lacking now are those little bits of code that do the talking.

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From: Tal Seifan
Date: 2 October 2008
Subj: Toilet seat problem

Dear Sir,

Assuming you are the same Richard Harter who solved the toilet seat problem in 2005, I would like a favor. Naturally, if you are not that Harter, I apologize for wasting your time.

I want to teach biology students some principles in game theory, and I wanted to use your paper. Usually, when I mention a paper, I also add a picture of the author/authors. I will be grateful if you could provide me with your picture (I promise the only change I will make is resizing it).

I am indeed that Harter. You are more than welcome to use the paper. Apparently I don't have a good portrait photo on the computer; however I have attached one that was taken in Venice a couple of years ago. I hope it will suffice.
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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 2 October 2008
Subj: Letter from Sarah

My dear spouse Cheryl reports that she received that *very same letter* from Sarah Palin. You say Sarah's sending e-mail to strange men. Well, she's also sending e-mail to strange women. And Cher is (as she herself will admit) quite strange. (I am married to one of the very few women who loathe shopping for clothes but will spend hours happily in a hardware or farm-supply store.)

Sarah is heading for a load of trouble with these e-mails to strange men and strange women.

As for sending her the money she asks for, that'll have to wait. BHO promises us change. When he gets elected maybe he'll see that I have some spare change in my pocket, and I can send her some.

I dunno, this all gets very spooky. Could it be that Sarah Palin is a Nigerian? I suppose not; those letters from Nigeria are always offering large sums of money. Politicians ask for lots of money and offer a little change in return.

Anyway, I worry about Sarah. I saw her on TV the other night and she was chatting up some old geezer who was old enough to be her grandfather.

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From: Michael Farrel
Date: 28 September 2008
Subj: Anger Management

Hey, did you write the Anger Management story?

Sorry, no, it is one of those things that circulated in email lists. I dare say it was written by some humorist but I can't find any information about it on the web. There must be thousands of copies out there.

... continued on next rock ...

I had an idea to write a short movie using that but I don't want to get sued down the road. Oh well, saves me a lot of work. Enjoyed your site BTW. Think I would be considered one of those Creation idiots too. Thanks for getting >back to me and keep up the good work, Michael

Thanks for the kind words. As an after thought I checked urbanlegends.com and snopes.com. They didn't turn anything up. I suspect that it is an urban legend; it has all of the earmarks of one.
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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 29 September 2008
Subj: Review of a creationist textbook

As one who was (like me) not designed intelligently--any intelligence I may have fell randomly upon my exposed neurons back when I had some--you will enjoy reading this review...

http://arstechnica.com/reviews/other/discovery-textbook-review.ars?bub

No, you won't, You'll grumble, slurping your soup with too much noise, >wishing that science could just be science without the religious politix.

Well I read it. I dunno, it's pretty much a case of preaching to the choir. People who have had an education that includes a basic understanding of science will nod their heads and agree. That such people are a small minority of the population may be a depressing fact. Then again, one can take the view that the dream of a well informed citizenry was always a utopian fantasy.

Isaac Asimov had a useful term for people like the Discovery Institute people - they are part of the Army of the Night, part of that vast host that wishes to replace science by superstition and reason by religious fanaticism.

The Army of the Night has many branches who are more than willing to wage war amongst themselves even as they struggle against their common enemy. Their dogmas vary widely, but one thing they all have in common, a vast, pervasive intellectual dishonesty.

There, how is that for a grumble?

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From: Chip Hitchcock
Date: 29 September2008
Subj: loose screws, etc.

The reason the hardware packages don't have the same count is the same reason hotdog buns and hotdogs come in packages with different counts.

I dare say it is. Would there be any point in asking what that reason might be? I didn't think so.
Following Peter's suggestion of Googling the phrases in the Jewish survival joke leads to a recollection of a hoarier piece involving a Jewish Brit who had done so many good things they couldn't avoid knighting him. Instead of the usual folderol they simply told him "Show up on X", where he saw various people briefly declaiming in some language he didn't recognize (presumably Latin) before kneeling; at his turn, he said "Boruch hatah adonai, elohaynu ...", at which point Victoria turned to Albert to ask "Why is this knight different from all other knights?"

One guess who I heard that from.

The Evial One himself I would imagine. I've heard it myself from him ... more than once.
I had written:
I dare say it is. Would be any point in asking what that reason might be? I didn't think so.

Only the illuminati know for certain; suppositions include their desire to keep the rest of us guessing and the training some of them had in business school (cf Prof W. C. Fields's dictum "Never give a \r\e\k\c\u\scustomer an even break.")

One of the great disillusionments of my life was when I discovered that the illuminati weren't too bright. Business school, eh. You liberals are all alike - you just can't resist poking fun at our president.
Re who might have narrated an ancient anecdote from the Jewish Joe Miller.
The Evial One himself I would imagine. I've heard it myself from him ... more than once.

No; I got it from his imitator -- who may or may not have discovered it independently.

That possibility had also occurred to me; in the humor department his imitator plays Saruman to the Evial One's Sauron.
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From: Louis
Date: 27 September 2008
Subj: I disagree

About your Mt Everest gibberish .... I guess you believe that scientists think that the atoms that make up the mountain carefully deposited themselves in a roughly conical shape, layer upon layer until the last atom rested on the top!

The formation of mountains is not an micro process but a macro process primarily the result of tectonic plate collisions. Thus the math involves astronomically smaller numbers than you claim.

As for the *10,000,000,000,000,000 *planets, isn't it amazing how statistics can say almost anything and always be right and always be wrong!

I'm sure you're very disagreeable. No argument here with that.

I'm guessing that someone sent you http://richardhartersworld.com/~cri/2007/unlikely.html in the fond hopes of getting your goat. Perhaps you should do a search - your goat is missing.

I say this because no one who is at all familiar with my web site would be in the least bit likely to take the page in question seriously. Maybe you found the page by accident, but it seems, ah, unlikely.

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From: Sarah Palin
Date: October/1/2008
Subj: RICHARD, Join our Republican team today

Dear RICHARD,

I know that John McCain is the right person to lead our great country forward in these challenging times. Republicans across the country and I share his vision for keeping America prosperous and secure and look forward to helping communicate that vision to the American voters.

As Governor of Alaska, I have worked hard to bring reform to politics-as-usual, fight corruption and waste, and make certain that government serves the people, not the special interests.

Our Party's entire ticket, from top to bottom, is committed to an agenda of cutting wasteful pork-barrel spending and keeping taxes low so that American families can decide how to spend more of their hard-earned money instead of bureaucrats in Washington. We must act now to increase our energy independence and ensure our economy grows strong and offers opportunity to all of our citizens.

I applaud John McCain's personal example of dedication and sacrifice to our country, and I know he has the courage and experience to make the tough decisions that will keep America strong to face the threats to our security from Islamic terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and tyrannical regimes.

Like John McCain, Reform Republicans are optimistic about America's future -- and confident that we will build on our past successes to make our great country even greater.

We reject the Democrats' fearful and pessimistic mentality. When we are able to get our message past the liberal mainstream media filter directly to the voters the vast majority of the American people agree with our confident, optimistic view of principled, conservative government and opportunity for all.

But the Obama Democrats and their allies are set to raise over $1 billion to relentlessly flood America's airwaves with their negative and false attacks against our Republican candidates.

That's why I'm asking for your help. Please help give us the resources we need to fight back against the Democrats and their fearful tactics of doom-and-gloom. Help us fight for a better future for all Americans today by making a secure online contribution of $2,000, $1,000, $500, $100, $50 or $35 to the Republican National Committee.

I am honored to have been asked by John McCain to join him at the top of the ticket in this historic presidential election -- and now I am asking you to join with me and all of our candidates as we fight for victory on November 4th.

Sarah,
I'm flattered to hear from, particularly since you are a well known hottie and a national celebrity, but, after all, you are a married woman and have no business sending email to strange men. Believe me, I'm just about a strange man as you're going to find. The besides of which, what are you doing messing around with that McCain guy? I hear he's a married man with a jealous wife.

You be careful now, and stop messing around with strange men.

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This page was last updated October 16, 2008.

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