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December 2001 TOC
Archived letters

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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

Index of contributors

Joseph Wills
Kjetil Syrstad
Chris Mason
David Moews
Phil Schmierer
damon brown
Lesley Sterling
Art DeLong
Wesley Toews
Anthony R. Lewis
Jennifer Heisler
John Harter
Mike C
Ellen Fenwick

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
August 2001 Letters
September 2001 Letters
October 2001 Letters
November 2001 Letters

From: “Wills, Joseph” ([email protected])
Date: 12/11/2001
Subj: Darwin Awards

These are sad, but FUNNY! I sometimes read them on my radio program during my “Redneck Gourmet” segment.

Joe Wills
WBZC 88.9 & 95.1 FM (Burlington County, NJ College)
Burlington County Bluegrass

If I’m ever that way I will be sure and listen for your program. Redneck Gourmet, huh. I think I may not want to know what is on the table of a Redneck Gourmet.
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From: “btbscj” ([email protected])
Date: 12/9/2001
Subj: Mathematics for pleasure

I like your website……….. Longest I have lingered on a personal one. I came upon it via a search looking for the low-down on Ebeneezer Scrooge.

I suspect that my reading of “A Christmas Carol” is not one you’ll find in your favorite English department. No doubt but that it would be greatly improved if some of my little essays were used as source material.

I’m glad that you like the website. I’m not sure that it exactly counts as a personal website. I prefer to think of it as, ah, electronic personal journalism.

”Mathematics for pleasure” intrigued me, but no way to click on it. I have a friend who is in love with higher math. I am looking for ideas for a Christmas gift. Although, I am learning that real mathematicians don’t seem to give a hooty about gifts……just working problems.

I would like to know what you have to say on this subject.

That’s hard to say – mathematicians tend to be fairly eccentric in their tastes. One possibility that occurs to me is to give your friend one of those wooden puzzles that are very tricky to take apart and to put back together again. Another possibility is a book, although that depends upon the age of your friend. When I was young I greatly enjoyed reading Bell’s “Mathematics, Queen and servant of science”. I don’t know if it is currently in print but, if not, it shouldn’t be too hard to get a used copy.

If you want to be obnoxious make your friend a headband in the form of a Mobius strip.

The topics on my personal page include things that I mean to get around to writing about. Lord knows when I will get around to actually writing them. My website has drifted radically from my original conception.

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From: “Kjetil Syrstad” ([email protected])
Date: 12/11/2001
Subj: dead link

A wonderful collection of stuff you got there 🙂

The MS hate link on http://www.tiac.net/users/cri/mshumor.html is dead.
Now that’s a pity. The web as universal library is so transient.
(I’ve removed the link.)
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From: Spaslyusa ([email protected])
Date: 12/10/2001
Subj: few good Men and Me

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the “A Few Good Men and Me” testimony that a friend of mine sent over the internet. I was lucky to spend one week last summer at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego as an educator observing “the making of a Marine” I was very impressed. Thank you for the great job Marines are doing!

Thanks for the kind words. I can’t help but being proud of the work that they are doing.

… continued on next rock …

Thank you for sending your web page! As I was reading about you and your passion for gardening and writing, I was wondering if you read In search of our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker? If you have not, that would be a good piece to read!

Oddly enough I may have it. I inherited a number of gardening books from my mother and I seem to recall having seen it. The state of my library is describable by the words “Not Enough Book Shelf Space” so I’m not sure where it is. If I find it I will read it on your recommendation.
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From: “Chris Mason” ([email protected])
Date: 12/19/2001
Subj: hmm

Exactly who is Richard Harter?

A vague question, I know, but I have read some more of your works, and I like your intentions and passions for topics. Do you teach? How old are you? Where are you? Just curious I guess, to know whose works I have been reading and referencing to people.

Myself, 23, PhD student, from Wisconsin, now in CT.

I am currently resident in my home state, South Dakota; however I lived in Massachusetts for 40 years. I am currently 66, a number that seems quite implausible to me. I have an active mind which I cultivate with a hoe. I’ve never taught. I’ve been in the software world for decades. I was active in science fiction fandom for about twenty years. I’ve also been active in usenet for the past twenty years. I practice personal journalism. I suppose I am a renaissance man, that being the period from which I date. Et cetera.

You may find more details on personal bio page (click on Richard Harter on my home page) or go directly to


For an alternate view go to


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From: David Moews ([email protected])
Date: 12/05/2001
Subj: Poem completing your couplet `In the fields of hell…’

Nothing is lost on the Net. Here is your original post.

Path: husc2!husc6!cca!g-rh
From: [email protected] (Richard Harter)
Newsgroups: soc.men,soc.women
Subject: A poem
Summary: Posted by request
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
Date: 11 Jan 88 05:36:09 GMT
Reply-To: [email protected] (Richard Harter)
Organization: Computer Corp. of America, Cambridge, MA
Lines: 39
Xref: husc2 soc.men:3977 soc.women:6508
        A number of people have written, asking where the two
lines that I use for a signature come from.  The truth of the matter
is that I wrote them as a couplet many years ago.  I came across
them when I was going through old papers, rather liked them, and
decided to use them for a signature.
        Since several people wanted to see the rest of the poem
I decided to write it.  So, for those who liked the first two
lines, here is the poem:
                In the Fields of Hell
        In the fields of Hell where the grass grows high
        Are the graves of dreams allowed to die.
        A neglected grave with a fallen slate
        Bears an epitaph, that tells their fate,
            I could have been, but I am not.
            I am the dream, that you forgot.
        In our busy times we fail to choose
        To nourish dreams, which we then lose
        And the dreams we lose are left to lie
        In the fields of Hell, where the grass grows high.
        Copyright (c) 1988 by Richard Harter
        Yes, I know that the appropriate group is the poetry group.
However the people that asked mostly read the soc groups that I
follow, so I am posting it there.  Apologies to those who feel that
poetry is not a fit subject for men and women. :-)
In the fields of Hell where the grass grows high
Are the graves of dreams allowed to die.
        Richard Harter, SMDS  Inc.
David, you are a marvel. Now that I have picked my jaw up from off of the floor let me thank you very much. Unlike Mehitabel who was less than grateful to Archy for returning her lost kittens (found tied up in a sack weighted with rocks) I am delighted to discover this lost kitten.
Return to index of contributors From: PhilSchmierer ([email protected])
Date: 12/04/2001
Arizona Rocket Car

I saw an article awhile back by the guy that was supposedly involved with the real rocket car on the abandoned mine railroad. There was a link to this story and now it appears to be gone. Would you happen to know if this was moved , or just taken off the internet permanently? It was very amusing, and I would like to get a copy. I have a good friend who was not aware of that story, nor was he aware of this actual Darwin Award site……

Check http://www.geocities.com/Baja/Canyon/7665/ROCKIT.HTML

As far as I know it is (or may be) the original event around which the rocket car story was constructed.

Last year we had some 18 year old kid drive around the gates right in front of Amtrak, which was clipping along at 79 MPH. Needless to say, the kid was “put in the clear” permanently. We were on a frieght train right behind Amtrak and had to wait till the mess was cleaned up. I want to change the name of the road to “Darwin Crossing”. Half of the engineers I work with get it, and the other half don’t have a clue what I’m talking about…..

Great Site !! Thanks, Phil Union Pacific, Dunsmuir Ca.

The heck of it is that most of us do incredibly stupid things now and then. As much as anything it is good luck that keeps us in one piece.
… continued on next rock …

What amazes me is the fact that mankind has advanced as far as he has !! Let’s face it, we have pulled some real boners and lived to tell the tale !!! (collectively and individually)

We keep working on new technology with which to screw ourselves up. It’s taken a while but lately we’ve gotten really good at it.
That’s why it’s fun to get up in the morning and see what kind of amazing stunt was pulled today somewhere in the world !!!

Thanks the good lord for our sense of humor !!! It certainly would be a dreary place without it !!

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From: “damon brown” ([email protected])
Date: 12/06/2001
Subj: Dungeons & Dragons article

The peasants would be Commoner or maybe Warrior characters. Check the 3E DMG (sorry-the 3rd Edition Dungeon Master Guide) for further details.

Love your site.


I’m pleased that you like the site. I dunno about commoners or warriors though – peasants definitely aren’t warriors and commoners is rather vague.
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From: Lesley Sterling ([email protected])
Date: 12/06/2001
Subj: A Tech Writer in Hell

Just had to email you to say that the A Tech Writer in Hell joke was great. I, too, am a Tech Writer. Thanks for the laugh!

It comes under the category of “Ain’t it the truth”.
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From: Art DeLong ([email protected])
Date: 12/03/2001
Subj: Creationism, The American Disease

I find your site and its content of particular interest. Are there any other sites that illustrate specific examples of Creationism being a wholly American phenomenon? I am most interested in good examples to support the clear and impassioned argument that you set forth in your essay. It has wetted my appetite so to speak and I’d like to learn more about the origin of the statements made about creationism being an “American disease” and that “Socially and culturally it lives in a half way house”.

It wouldn’t do to say that Creationism is a wholly American phenomenon. In Muslim fundamentalism it is part of the package. In Europe it is a minor crackpot phenomenon. South Africa had a significant infestation of creationism during the Apartheid years. Canada has a certain amount of it, mostly in the prairie provinces. There is a noticeable movement in Australia. However it is only in the United States (and to some extent in South Africa in the past) that it has significant impact on education. Most of my information on the subject comes from having participated in the talk.origins newsgroup where the issue of creationism is the focus.

The statement, “Socially and culturally it lives in a half way house”, is mine but it is a common comment in one form or another.

Here are some links to creationism around the world:

… continued on next rock …

I want to thank you for making the effort to send me those links. I happen to agree wholeheartly with your opinions on your site. I also have a close friend who is a scientist at a consumer products company that first turned me onto your site. We are of the opinion that the creationist legions are growing in the USA and could very well duplicate history where which the pagan hordes destroyed the Roman Empire. This mob would plunge America into a superstitious dark age with dire consequences.

We are startled and confused as to many instances of “cultural halfwayhousism” that we see everyday without actually going out of our way to focus on those issues like a lot of people do just to complain. And if creationsim and its tenets are used to cure social ills we feel that they would only exacerbate the problem because the tool is not rooted in reality.

Creationism cannot cure social evils; it is a social evil. It is hard to tell whether creationism in the USA is growing – the US has always been a hotbed of religious fundamentalism. The oddity is that people can hold quite contradictory beliefs without any conciousness of the contradiction. Thus the same person can go and watch Jurassic Park and, while watching, accept without question that the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, and yet also believe that the creation story in Genesis is literally true.

This is easy enough to do; people wear beliefs like clothes, changing them to suit their circumstances. One might suppose that they would notice that their beliefs do not hang together but it is not so, at least not for many people. After all, in the ordinary course of life, it really doesn’t matter whether what you believe about such matters is true or not. It matters if your belief about what your boss will say if you come in late yet once again is true or not. It is unlikely to affect your life if your beliefs about the age of the universe are off by six orders of magnitude.

This comfortable habit of inconsistency can only maintained if one carefully avoids exposing one’s beliefs to criticial thinking. It is just here that creationism is dangerous – creationism requires that avoidance of critical thinking. The policy of the creationists is to remove critical thinking and replace knowledge with ignorance in their areas of interest. That is, their objective is to damage the educational process. If they can achieve it, the game is to have biblical literalism taught as science. If not, it serves their ends as well to have all information about evolution, geology, and cosmology removed from the textbooks, either completely or radically dumbed down.

If you haven’t seen it, you might look at the National Center for Science Education site at http://natcenscied.org/.

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From: “Wesley Toews” ([email protected])
Date: 12/01/2001
Subj: D&D;

Hello Richard,

I don’t think I’ve seen an senior citizen (or a young guy, for that matter) with a web page quite as cool as yours so far!

It would be unbecoming of me to say so or even to agree with you. However I believe it would be permissable to compliment you on your good judgement.
My contribution to your inquiry of ‘whether or not post-book fiction can offer no better’ is fairly straightforward. I think it is important to note that a large number of politically-oriented literary works that are popular today had not been very popular at all in their historical context, well-known cases of this being J. Joyce’s Ulysses and Confucius’ Analects. Both, although regarded in modern times as revolutionary works in their respective social contexts, were of little popularity in their original times.
I dunno. I haven’t read Ulysses – I’m reserving it for my next life in case reincarnation is on – but I have read the Analects, which is more than I suspect most people (even Chinese) have done. I doubt that either is actually popular – honored, yes, but read only by a minority. If you say that Ulysses is politically oriented I will have to take your word for it as I haven’t read it. One could say that the Analects are politically oriented but I opine that that is a misleading description. They are ethically oriented, being concerned with “right” behaviour albeit written about and for “gentlemen”. As such the Analects are political within a perspective in which the political viewpoint is privileged. However Confucius was writing within a context in which politics as we conceive of it was invisible.
The respect given to these types of texts nowadays shows that it often takes time for a ‘great’ text to take hold. These kind of have to fight through the muck and mire of other texts or other mediums to become recognized, and I think it is somewhat naive to suppose that there was not any ‘low-brow popular entertainment’ to congeal the diffusion of great literary or theatric works like there is today. My point is that this problem isn’t anything particularly new, but time is needed for a new medium to disseminate a decent work amongst all the crap (such as D&D;) that people seem more attracted to because it is easier to watch, listen to or read, etc. Although I am not horribly knowledgable about films, I suspect that the problem is not unique to this medium.
As a side note I am prejudiced against the term “text” that is so frequently used in these discussions. On one hand it is act of erasure, not in the sense of deconstruction, but rather in the sense of removing features, these including the physicality of books (and scrolls and monitor screens) and the social constructs that envelop “text”, and, on the other hand, it is too often an act of equivocation, i.e., the term is used to describe things which are not text as such. The fallacy here is that critical theory developed for the written word in a specific format is applied willy-nilly to the generalized “text”.

Be that as it may your general point – that at any particular point in time great works come into being within the context of a froth of much lesser works – is sound enough.

Of course the problem with more advanced technology is that it allows a greater volume of ‘crap’ to be produced, thus clouding the potentially great works for a longer period of time.
But you see, you are thinking in terms of the “production of works”. The model of experience in the traditional media is one in which there are producers who construct artifacts and consumers who experience those artifacts. The consumers are passive in that they have no control of the manufacture of the artifacts. In the new modes of fiction the consumer has agency; they participate in the fiction actively as makers. Thus in D&D; (the game, not the movie) the dungeon master sets the framework but the players actively construct the story.
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From: “Anthony R. Lewis” (anthony_lewis/[email protected])
Date: 11/26/2001
Subj: Music

A question has arisen–what is the best kind of artillery to use in the finale of the 1812 Overture? Some parameters that ought to be considered are:

Modern powder vs. traditional black powder
Live shells (or cannonballs) vs. blank charges.

Surely your readership has information to add to this musicological conundrum.

I dare say they will. As I recall, the cannons are on the Boston side of the Charles and they face MIT. Clearly they should use live ammunition. On the whole I think that cannon balls should be used provided that they reach across the Charles. Modern artillery is too efficient; the reduction of the Institute should be at a measured pace so as to afford the audience time to celebrate the event.

I opine that black powder is preferable as it provides a more spectacular effect. However one could argue that the clouds of smoke would be too great during a sustained salvo.

Return to index of contributors From: Jennifer Heisler Date: 11/25/2001
Cool game . . .

but why are you always reincarnated as a male?

I’m pleased that you enjoyed the game. I hadn’t looked at it for a while and your email inspired me to bring it up. It definitely is addictive.

There are reasons for it being written so that the player isalways being reincarnated as a male but not, I suppose, good ones. As it is, the game is quite unfair to your sex. I shall have to do something about that.

This is not as simple as it may seem. It wouldn’t do to randomly change sexes during reincarnations. One’s sex is, after all, one of the fundamentals of one’s self. One has to respect the conventions of the masculine principle and the feminine principle. The way I would set it up is to have a male track and a female track with transitions from the male track to the female track on “feminine” choices and transitions from the female track to the male track on “masculine” choices. Animals might go to either track.

Then there is the matter of composing feminine lives and stories. Being male it is easier for me to take the male viewpoint. No doubt it will be good for my soul to (try to) write from the female viewpoint. I will probably make a hash of it but so be it. There is a natural source for many of the stories. part of the structure of the game is that many of the lives are interleaved. That is, in one life you are one character in a story and another you are a different character. There are females in many of these stories so it is natural to have their side of the story, so to speak.

Then there is the difficulty that in traditional societies the choice of occupations open to women is restricted – the major occupation being “wife” with status being derived from one’s husband and/or father. The formulas – “you are a rice peasant” et cetera – become problematic although one always has the Mulan story and its equivalents to work with.

I composed the game during the blizzards of last winter. Outside the wind is howling. I suppose it is time to return to the Empire.

Return to index of contributors From: John Harter ([email protected])
Date: 11/06/2001
just another harter

hi my name is john harter. I live in modesto calif. I have a brother whose name is jack carl harter. He does not know it but his son is very ill and the doctors need to talk to him. my e-mail address is [email protected] also would like to know if i have any relatives out there thank you

I can’t help you on getting word to your brother. There are a lot of Harters in the midwest so odds are that you have relatives there. I imagine it would be hard to track them down unless you have genealogical information.
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From: “Mike C” ([email protected])
Date: 11/22/2001
Subj: The Cold Equations

Hi, thanks for your reply back, sorry I was busy and didn’t respond till now, well I think Tom Godwin is a very good writer and his story “The Cold Equations” is the only sci fi story I have read. And by far it is the best story I have read.

That’s remarkable.
Is John W. Campbell Jr. also an author of sci fi stories? I have not heard of him before.
Campbell was the editor of Astounding Science Fiction for 30+ years spanning the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. He was an enormous influence in the field. He was an author of note before he became an editor.
Btw are you a sci fi story editor or commentator? I was curious because of the essay you wrote about “The Cold Equations” and what is the address of your website? is it http://www.tiac.net/users/cri
I comment on SF but then I comment on a lot of things. I’m an old time science fiction fan. Browse around my web site and you will find many strange things – just remember that I wage an underground war against reality. You have the correct URL for my web site.
I was very happy and fortunate on being able to find a copy of “The Cold Equation”, although this was no easy task. I tried everything I could think of, internet search engines, used book stores, amazon.com, ebay.com, and such. I finally stumbled upon the rare books section of amazon.com and realized that there was a copy of the Astonding Science Fiction Aug 1954 on sale, I was luckily able to buy it for only $8. I now knew that my search would have been easier if I had put ASF aug 1954 instead of trying to search for “The Cold Equations” or Tom Godwin. I have received the magazine but I have yet to have time to read it.
I think Tom Godwin should win an award for his short story, I think it is extremely good, and even for me, who is normally not a reader at all, to hold this much interest in a literary work is amazing. He should get a Nobel Prize for sci fi writing or something.
I think that a Nobel Prize is stretching it a bit.
Thanks for listening to my ranting. also do u know anything about J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis?
A fair bit. I have some essays on each on my website. Be wary.
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From: Ellen Fenwick([email protected])
Date: 11/18/2001
Subj: Drunk Shrimp Nero

This appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was submitted by 4 Seasons Fish, a restaurant at 214 N. 10th Street, Philadelphia

1 lb shrimp
2 cups Remy Martin grade cognac

“Live shrimp are packed in a plastic bag with compressed air to keep them alive. Leave in bag. Pour cognac into a small saucepan, Pyrex if possible. Warm but do not boil. Bring shrimp and saucepan to table. Light the warmed cognac. It should burn readily. From shoulder height (for more effect) pour cognac in a flaming stream into bowl. The shrimp will leap and somersault through the flames spectacularly. When flames die, the shrimp are ready to eat.

I got this recipe from five giggling citizens of Singapore, met by chance at the Temple of Artismis near Ephesus in Turkey. It is every bit as exotic and wonderful as the location. Your friends will be astonished. If these shrimp seem too rare, put them and the cognac in a saucepan and bring to a boil.”

It’s a wonderful recipe. The question is whether I will have the nerve to try it.
I like weird recipes, too.
I like the way that you find them – it has charm.
P. S. I wish I could find a copy of the Artists’ and Writers Cookbook with foreword by Alice B. Toklas. Some recipes look really delicious, but some are just strange. A sample of the latter follows.

Man Ray’s menu for a Dadaist day includes ball bearing in machine old served with French bread and skewered darning eggs.

I’ve heard of that cookbook but I’ve never seen. I hope that Man Ray’s menu isn’t one of the ones that you think look really delicious.
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This page was last updated December 22, 2001.

table of contents
December 2001 TOC
Archived letters