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Archived letters

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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

Index of contributors

Anders Elfgren
Tony Lewis
Bloody Viking
Tian Harter
Charles Hitchcock
R Aloisio
Alan Johnson
Chase Horn
Doug Riddle
John Windsor
Stephan Pickering
Sally Naumko
Albert Wood
Charles Hitchcock
Charles Hitchcock

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
From: Beth ([email protected])
Date: 8/22/2001
Subj: Thank you

I have enjoyed your Jane Austin info. I am from the Republic of Pemberley and was assured this site was a hoot. Thank you for the belly laughs. I will be grinning all day.

Sincerely, with tears running down my face,

Now you have me. The Republic of Pemberly? Is this a Jane Austen (not Austin) society on the lines of the SCA?

I’m pleased that you like the info page. You might like the Jane Austin bibliography page. It’s on my website but it’s not linked in yet. It’s not quite as outrageous as the biography but you may notice that the plots of some of the books bear a suspicious resemblence to well known works.

… continued on next rock …

Yes, there is a Pemberly Page…..it is called The Republic of Pemberley


I took a look at it. It’s a nice site.
Your site has been mentioned on it. The citizens there would enjoy your sense of humor. Please come over and visit!!
Quite by accident I discovered the thead discussing my little page (I wouldn’t have you think that I am so immodest as to have desperately ransacked the site in search of my name) and was gratified by the reaction. I expect I will have to contribute something, if only to clear my name.
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From: Anders Elfgren ([email protected])
Date: 7/30/2001
Subj: More thoughts…..

[re is it 50/50 that there are Nazis on Mars]

No. I must disagree with you.

If we have no information whatsoever about any of the objects that has to do with the nazis on mars, we could just as well guess that (1)they are there as (2)they aren’t. Of course, they aren’t there, so (1) would be wrong, but it wouldn’t be a dumb guess.

The point is that the appearance of a 50/50 proposition is a product of how we structure the question. We could as well say either there are nazis on Mars or there are green monkeys on mars or there aren’t any life forms on Mars. Using the same principle of ignorance we would say that the chances of there being nazis on Mars is 1/3. The principle of ignorance only applies if (a) we have exhaustively enumerated all cases and (b) notwithstanding our knowledge of what the possible cases are we nonetheless have no distinguishing knowledge between the possible cases.
When I say no information, I mean that we couldn’t even relate to anything that would have anything to do with it.

Guess what number between 1 and 2000 I’m thinking of. You might think that well now I have a chance of 1/2000 (incl. number 1), because I only know this guy thru the a couple of emails. But then, you might think that, ah wait, he’s probably a computer nerd (I don’t mind the term, at this time most everyone who spends time with computer and has a webpage is called it, even tho the real definition is not quite that.) and so he might think of the word 1337 (yes, it is a word. Don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but its a lame ‘code language’, in which letters are changed for numbers with similiar form, the above word being leet, or elite.) Or, he might be thinking of the number 69, no explanation needed I hope 😉 666 is also a number that is a good one to choose from. Any power of two (back to the computer/mathematical nerdishness), 32, 256, 1024 maybe too. But he seems smart enough to understand that it would be stupid to pick one of those numbers, so now you have about 1970 numbers to choose from. Of course, its not much of a difference, but maybe you see my point?

Actually, no, unless your point is that when people are asked to pick numbers randomly their choices aren’t equally distributed. A friend of mine made money for a while by exploiting this. Massachusetts came out with a state sponsored numbers game. The way it worked is that all purchases were pooled together; the state took its cut off the top; and then the remaining pool was divided between the people holding the winning number. If the winning number was one that few people had chosen then the payout per ticket would be larger than it would be if it were a number that many people had chosen. What he did was buy tickets on the numbers that were rarely chosen.

The interesting thing about the “guess what number I am thinking of” game is that one can go arbitrarily deep in trying to outfox the other person. We can divide the numbers into interesting ones, ones with some special property, and uninteresting ones, the others. You choose a number. I, in turn, guess a number. Now I might reason that you would not choose one that is interesting so I guess one of the uninteresting ones. You might take this into account and choose one of the interesting ones which I will eliminate. I, thinking that you might be trying to outfox me, might instead choose one of the interesting ones. The winner of this game, it would appear, is the person who best divines the strategy of the other person. However …

… either of us can cut through these strategic considerations by simply choosing a number at random using some method that does not reflect human bias.

(From before) Not particularly. It is a mistake to generalize from our own species. It’s plausible enough but nobody knows. Maybe we are a rare exception among intelligent species.

Yes, maybe. But its not hard to think that another race in the lower stages of evolution (equal to stoneage or so) would have hard times. When things happen for no obvious reason (clanmate being killed by lightning for example) the question “who made that lightning come down, and why on him?” might give thought to some further ideas. On the other hand, most animals doesn’t seem to have any thoughts about such things, except maybe for dogs that see their owner as some sort of god, but I don’t know if any dogs think like that.

It is natural to think that some other race would follow a path roughly like our own. Still, all we really know is that we are a rather anomalous species and we have a lot of psychological features that come from being a primate. Perhaps most other intelligent species acquire big brains for quite different reasons than our own species did. Perhaps their social intelligence works differently. Our species tends to personify the events of nature and other animals. We don’t know if this is an essential feature of intelligence or an accidental feature of our own species. In a way we are back to those nazis who are or aren’t on Mars; our difficulty is that we can’t enumerate the cases, i.e., we don’t know what the possibilities are.
[re simulating the universe on a computer]

Of course, that is why the limit is the speed of the ‘computer’. If a computer that is fast enough (and actually, the more I think about, the less believable it seems that it could be created, in the world we’re living in anyway.) would exist, someone would start some sort of world simulation. (hmm I feel I’m repeating myself) The earth contains of people with different bodies (unique ones can be easily generated in millions, billions maybe, strangely.) and minds, which simply put has a couple of characteristics such as : kind, jealos, funny, selfish, etc. All these can be combined in quite a lot of variations too.

Also, the world has plants and dead minerals, doesn’t take much energy to simulate them (relativly). Animals, insects, very many, but all are quite alike in ways of thinking, in their own species anyway. Also, the world needs a sun and millions of dead balls of rock in space and some stars. It can all be simulated, provided you have the information to start with and the speed to have it up running. Actually, speed, when I think about it, isn’t actually THAT necessary. Its not like WE would notice if the frames per second were low, right? What we think takes a minute might take one year to simulate, like advanced animated movies take longer to render than their actual playing time.

It couldn’t be done in real time – if I am not mistaken there is a theorem to that effect. The problem with simulation is: how much detail do you need to include.
Random can’t be proven, and so I will believe in it just as much as I believe in God. In fact, I believe that the chance that random exists is smaller than the existence of a higher being (not counting that we’re simulated and have someone looking down at us) such as God or Allah or whatever. This, because, most gods talked about are allmighty, and therefore should be able to control everything. A religious person that believes that stuff happens beyond the control of the god… I’d like to meet him/her 🙂
You will believe what you choose to believe. As it happens, it appears that the universe does not agree with you.
One of my brothers doesn’t agree with me, thinking ‘its not good to believe in fate. Believing in fate could make you stop caring about what you do, since it wont matter, you’ll end up the same way anyway.’ I don’t think it works like that, but what I want to ask him the next time the subject comes up is : Would you rather believe that the way you end your life is based on actions and decisions you make based on things you know, or would you like it to end in a way because of a thing called random that makes stuff happen for no reason at all. I mean, if it can change the outcome of a dice, it has to be quite powerful, powerful enough to be able to change the way we think (after all its just the same action, stuff going around in the brain).
But there is no thing called random, no deity that goes around making things happen for no reason at all. The universe that we live in has elements of regularity and elements of chance. We exploit the regularities and live with chance.

Fundamentally, speaking for myself, I wouldn’t “rather believe” either of your choices. You are contrasting two possibilities – determinism and randomness. It seems to me that we live in a world where both exist.

Maybe we should be content with what were already discussing, but I’d just like to ask you what you know/think about how small distances and time can get.

If you have two objects, and half off the differance between them, by moving one towards the other, would they get closer to eachother in infinity, or is there some point where it is either right beside the other object, or one ‘lenght unit’ away from it? I wonder the same about time, are there an infinity of timesteps? Like,

time = 1  (second)
while (time not equal to time/10)
  time = time/10
print("the minimum time segment is 
will that ever be ‘written to the screen’? (btw, that is not a real progamming language, but i hope you see what I mean :))

I suppose at this time noone knows the answer, but just thought I’d ask. its pretty interesting, and it does have to do with the simulation theory. A friend of mine called it quantisation or something like that.

This gets into some real hair. In classical physics space and time are continuums. The implication of this is that your loop never terminates. Intervals of time and space can be subdivided indefinitely; there is no minimum segment of time or space. In modern physics, however, space and time get fuzzy when you get down to very small intervals. Your loop fails because the measurement of the size of the interval becomes increasingly difficult.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention. I searched on srekel (either that or it was my name) on yahoos engine for some reason and up came our discussion on your webpage. I was like ookaaay.. but I don’t mind tho, in fact I think the thoughts I get are useful and it could be nice to send to some friends, since you have put it up so accessibly. When I sent you the first mail, i hadn’t seen that disclaimer (and its not because I don’t pay attention, I probably got the email address from another page). I just thought I should say that it would be a good idea to ask people first, because the next person you talk to might not want his thoughts published on the net.
I have thought that it would be a good idea to have the mail links go to a page where the disclaimer is present. However that link is present on upwards of a thousand pages; changing it is more work than I want to do at the moment. In any case in five years and a huge amount of email you are the only person who thought it worthy of comment. Thanks for the thought, though.
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From: Tony Lewis ([email protected])
Date: 8/23/2001
Subj: Trademarks

If you haven’t already done done so, I suggest you post a link to http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/metaschool/fisher/domain/tmcases/majleag.htm

It is very amusing and interesting. You may be sure that the link will appear somewhere on my site.
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From: Bloody Viking ([email protected])
Date: 8/9/2001
Subj: The Agricultural Future Essay

I have to agree things are bleak. But if you look down the road a long time, you find that the fossil fuel depletion causes global warming of course, and as time goes by our descendants find themselves on a jungle planet.

To get to citrus, they will have to climb trees a lot, and here’s the fun part. As they do so, they evolve long arms and short legs, like an existing rainforest tribe of pygmies in Africa. After all the other mammals are gone, they no longer have access to clothing, so they evolve fur. With the chronic tree climbing, they evolve opposable big toes.

They will look like…. Apes! Yep, a planet of the apes. I call this extension to that Olduvai Theory my pet Automotive Ape Theory. From the trees, to the interstate, right back to the trees. The other group who evolved into chimps were the smart ones. but no a splinter group climbed down to deplete all the oil. Too much like making sense to have simply stayed in the trees.

I like your theory. It may be implausible but it has panache.

… continued on next rock …

I came up with it in responce to the so-called “aquatic ape theory” so I took the Olduvai Theory and expanded it with my cynical sense of humour with evolution added in. The trick is global warming and how we are not that far from the rest of the apes. And one pygmy tribe comes with the ape style limb proportions, giving them a head start. (they live in a rainforest and climb trees a lot for food) They are just 2 mods away from being the ape lookalike! A South American pygmy type tribe has deformed feet from tree climbing that is not genetic, which if continued could give rise to the opposable big toes in the long run. The last item is evolving fur. With only rats for mammals eventually, clothing gets impossible, and humans have the hair follicles all over waiting to go. And fue is quite plausible. Check out this link:


The Hairy Human Homepage. That Brit with the fur drives a cab, so the Automotive Ape is here!

A Brit has fur like an orangutan! So, it’s more plausible than you think! The implausible thing is 2 of the apes finding the Jimmy Hoffa fossil. (:

I dunno; now I have to decide whether the Hairy Human Homepage belongs on my weird links page.

The aquatic ape theory is one of those things that sounds plausible as long as you don’t think about it. Come to think on it, that’s the story of my life.

… continued on next rock …

The automotive ape theory is a lot more plausible than aquatic ape theory by far. After all, we do drive the cars. Maybe I could license it to Dave Barry for a royalty. Or, write it in a book to be sold in the funny section. Getting the Hairy Human to pose in a Corvette convertible for the cover would be the hard part. The book could be dedicated to my great^300,000 grandfather, who climbed down from the trees.

I dunno. The glamourous and mysterious past plays better in the market than the far future. Of course, funny sells. If you can do funny well you have a shot.
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From: Dizzywella ([email protected])
Date: 8/9/2001
Subj: Kosher sex

you are just tooooo much i’m referring to the man that asked the rabbi if he could dance with his wife haaaaaaaaaaaaa haaaaaaaaaaa that was good.

I agree. It’s a cute story.
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From: Tian Harter ([email protected])
Date: 8/20/2001
Subj: A Place to Waste some time

Hello Richard,

I visited your site back in ’97 when my website was at aol.com. Now my website is at http://tian.greens.org , and is a huge complicated maze with a few interesting ideas in it. I am still Tian Harter, environmentalist, though.

Looking over the reads on your page, I was fascinated by this concept of Hartering someone. Sounds fun.

I met Peter Beagle in about 1995, when he was doing a book signing in Davis California. I told him that I had enjoyed A Fine And Private Place, and he said “Not many people know about that book nowadays.” I read it as a library book in the early seventies, and was surprised to find a review of it on your page.

I recognized your name immediately and recalled your letter and your old webpage. I like the new one. I added your new website to the “Harters on the Web” page – it has been a long time since I’ve updated it.

I envy your meeting Peter Beagle; he is one of my favorite authors.

As you may have noticed my site has grown a bit since 1997. I’m not sure that this is a good thing.

Return to index of contributors From: Charles Hitchcock ([email protected])
Date: 8/6/2001
traditional recipe for gar

I suppose there are versions of this for a lot of different foods….

[past Texas governor Allan Shiver’s chili recipe]

Put a pot of chili on the back of the stove to simmer. Let it simmer and simmer. Meanwhile, broil a good sirloin steak. Eat the steak. Let the chili simmer and simmer. Ignore it.
Frank X. Tolbert, A Bowl of Red

(Tolbert also says it’s a wonder Shivers was ever elected given his opinion of chili.)
But he was a Texas governor. In Texas they elect governors by putting a lot of names in a ten gallon hat and drawing out one at random.
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From: “R Aloisio” ([email protected])
Date: 8/8/2001
Subj: Web page

LMAO…well your web page got my attention!

Oh dear. I shall have to speak to it severely.

“Bad web page. Now you give that attention back right now.”

… continued on next rock …

You are way toooo funny…you must be a professional! I am right aren’t I?

Nope, just a talented amateur. It comes from growing up in South Dakota. When you have a drought four years out of five you just naturally acquire a dry sense of humor.
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From: Bonnie ([email protected])
Date: 8/4/2001
Subj: Purple dresses

Just playing with the internet, looking for something about “When I grow old, I will wear purple” and came upon your most interesting site. I hope I’m able to find it again sometime. Anyway, keep having fun and bringing smiles.

Thanks for the kind words. I hope you return and find it again some day. There are many jewels of writing to be found therein – most of them paste.
Return to index of contributors From: “Chase Horn” ([email protected])
Date: 7/26/2001
Subj: My compliments…

My compliments to you.

My name is Chase Horn, and I was referred to your site by a friend of mine, who referred me specifically to your humor page, which I enjoyed, by the way.

I simply wished to compliment you on your site, as well as your wit and sense of humor. Not to mention the fact that from what I can see, you are more intelligent than at least nineteen out of every twenty people I have ever met. In all truth the number is larger, but I believe in being gracious when the targets of my insults aren’t listening.

I cannot honestly claim to have read the entire page of course. It may turn out that you’re a complete moron and my words are unfounded. Somehow I find myself doubting this.

You do, however, have the highest praises I can give you, which I would much rather you simply take as read are flowing and nice and all that, because as it is 7:10 in the morning, I would rather not type them out right now. Should your ego ever need a boost let me know. Firm believer in praise for the worthy and all.

At any rate, I like what I have seen, and hope to see more.

And excuse any bad grammar or spelling here. It is entirely at fault of the fact that I am a bad typist and even the best of editors, which I am not, misses a few.

Be well, and good fortune.

Thank you for your kind words. It is true enough that I was quite intelligent when I was young. On one of those tests that one is subjected to when one is young I scored 171. It is well known, of course, that such tests and numbers are meaningless. I have noticed though that the people who say that they are meaningless come in two sorts, those with high scores who are already convinced that they are inordinately intelligent and are practicing a bit of noblesse oblige and those with low scores who believe that they are inordinately intelligent despite their scores.

In any event the times when I was young were well into the last century. I am an elderly gentleman these days and my brain cells have skittered away over the decades; nowadays I am quite the regular guy.

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From: “Riddle, Doug” ([email protected])
Date: 7/26/2001
Subj: On Heinlein and racism


I enjoyed your take on Robert Heinlein. I cannot begin to imagine what people are thinking when they apply a current standard to past authors. Was Twain a racist? Not if you look at his treatment of characters. A case can be made for poor word choices if you apply modern standards. However, they would be like saying Bach was prejudice for not writing for the electric guitar… Sort of stupid.

Some things will never change over time, plagues are not nice to experience, natural disasters will modify your schedule, you get what you pay for, and no one really gets what they deserve (thank God). However, propriety is not immutable. Moral standards and moral conduct shift and swing back and forth. We should not chastise past artists based on current trends. That is the height of racism and bigotry; consider the setting before critiquing the masters.

Thank you for pointing that out. Heinlein was one of my favorite authors when I was growing up.

Some time ago I read a pro and con page prosing on about whether “Huckleberry Finn” was a racist book. The con side said that the book was a savage commentary on white racism; the con side said that the depiction of blacks was, none-the-less, derogatory and painful.

After some thought I came to the conclusion that the book is racist in a subtler sense in that the perspective is one of white guilt. If I were black I might well object to a white using blacks to castigate other whites.

In any case I quite agree with your remarks re Heinlein.

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From: “john.windsor” ([email protected])
Date: 7/26/2001
Subj: the man who never was

for the man who never was ,see my tax return john

I thought that was the man who never had anything left.
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From: Stephan Pickering ([email protected])
Date: 7/255/2001
Subj: animal rights

Shalom & good evening, Richard.

Are you familiar with a piece published within the past 5 years dealing with W. Douglas Burden, the American Museum of Natural History “adventurer” who found the Komodo “dragon”, and, later, established “Marineland”? As I recall, it delved into the entire question of animal rights etc., scientific hoaxes (the idea that “killer” whales can be trained etc. etc.). If you are familiar with it, I need data for my research.

My apologies but I’m not familiar with the article about Burden. Perhaps one of my readers may recognize it.
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From: “Sally and David Naumko” ([email protected])
Date: 7/28/2001
Subj: Piltdown Man


I know this might sound very peculiar to you, but I am attempting to track down my real grandparents (geneology, they would certainly be long dead). Now, my father died in 1976, leaving behind a story of his real mother, whom he claimed was deeply involved with the Piltdown Man fraud. All my researching has turned up names of men, no women. However, there is a photograph I have seen that shows a woman standing with Dawson, and I am convinced this is my father’s mother. I have asked my mother, who is still alive if this story is true, and she says it is. Sadly, she has no names for me. My parents were divorced many years ago, and any information she might have had is long gone. I realize this is a long shot, and the request is somewhat peculiar, but if you can help me at all, even by passing along my email to others who might be able to help, I would be forver indebted to you. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sally Naumko (nee Hull)

I suspect that I haven’t seen the photo to which you refer. “Piltdown Unravelled” by Walsh has a photo two men and three women at the Piltdown site. It shows Dawson, Woodward, Woodward’s daughter (Mrs. Hodgson), Mrs. Woodward, and a female friend. The friend, however, is not identified.

I will include your letter in my correspondence column on the off chance that one of my readers may know..

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From: “Albert Wood” ([email protected])
Date: 8/1/2001
Subj: bravo

bravo bravo

My sentiments exactly.
Return to index of contributors From: Charles Hitchcock ([email protected])
Date: 7/31/2001
Chicken and Horse

And then there’s the punchline “I don’t know why my girl left with him; all he did was stand there licking his eyebrows.”

Which explains why Miss Piggy is attracted to Kermit.
Return to index of contributors From: Charles Hitchcock ([email protected])
Date: 8/1/2001
Getting Busted

I was in Anchorage last year on the 4th — they didn’t start the fireworks until midnight. (And even then it would have been a poor show without cloud cover — two days earlier in Denali Park the daily news sheet said -“Sunrise: 3:30am. Sunset: 1:00am”-.)

You know, I never thought about that. One could argue that any state that can’t put on a good Fourth of July show shouldn’t be in the union. Then again one could argue that it was a serious mistake to annex foreign countries. After all, if we hadn’t acquired Texas, we wouldn’t have had Johnson, Bush, and Shrub as presidents, and, if we hadn’t acquired Hawaii, there wouldn’t have been a movie called Pearl Harbor.
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This page was last updated August 24, 2001.

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August 2001 TOC
Archived letters