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Archived letters

Letters to the Editor, January 2002

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 January 2002.

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From: Septemberbugzy
Date: 01/23/2002
Subj: Mutants

In this article more than once I have read that humans and mutants are not the same species. Is that true please right back!

I’m not sure which article you are referring to although I surmise it is the mutantwatch.com site, which was a hoax promoting the X-men movie. In any event “mutants” as in the X-men comics do not exist.

In the real world viable mutations in animals (including humans) do not affect what species they belong to.

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From: john
Date: 01/22/2002
Subj: marilyn

Savant is not a genius she has a high “IQ” without discussing the fallaciousness of the IQ system, Marilyn has demonstrated she is not only not a genius but has limit common sense She said in the last column of hers I ever read, because of the following stukpid statement “I believe OJ was guilty because Marsha Clark told me she had never had as much ev9idence in a case” Now clark lied there are cases she has tried with eye witness account how would a genius take the word of a lousy prosecutor who had a nervous breakdown during the summation as fact!

Also you need to study Sitting Bull before dismissing him so lightly

I am guessing that this particular rant was inspired by my piece, The man who thought he was stupid. If it was it appears that you misunderstood almost everything that you read. That’s okay. You made a connection to OJ which is more than most people would have done.
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From: ebrahim emarati
Date: 01/20/2002

i am an iranian student of humanities, and i have a rather large primary information about deconstruction and theoretical aspects of this tradition. i wonder how i can access the pragmatical and practical uses of it through internet. ( i mean deconstructive criticism in literary works).

I am quite sure that I am not the best person to help you with this. I will suppose that you have read some of the primary texts by DeMann and Derrida. If not, do so. I have a difficulty reconciling “deconstructive criticism in literary works” and “pragramatical and practical uses of it through internet” unless you simply mean, where on the internet can one find sites where deconstructive criticism is performed rather than talked about.

A google search on “literary theory” turns up quite a few resources including http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/Complit/Eclat/ . This may be useful. I hope it helps.

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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 01/17/2002
Subj: creationist doublethink

I have one quibble with your response to Art DeLong, where you speak of the creationist’s ability to believe in 65-million-year-old dinosaurs and creationism (i.e., a 6,000-year-old Earth). If you can get a creationist to actually think about this and be articulate, an answer is that the bones were created that old 6,000 years ago; if you press, this may be explained as a Job-like test of faith.

Getting a creationist to actually think is a formidable task. Seriously, most of them use one of several well established thought evasion techniques.

The most common by far is the “How could you think such terrible thoughts? Here is a pamphlet. Come pray with me and save your soul.”

This may be accompanied by the pseudoscience handwaving defense. The operative rule is that any sort of handwaving explanation for the manifest incongruities with reality in Genesis will do. These explanations do not have to make sense nor do they have to be internally consistent. It suffices that there is some sort of answer to any particular objection.

The resolution that you present has never been popular; it implies that God is a deceiver on the grand scale. As an oddity people have less of a problem with starlight being created in transit than they do with fossil bones of non-existent animals.

I will note that I have proposed a completely correct and theologically sound resolution of this issue, Postmodern Creationism. For some reason it has not been universally and enthusiastically received.

To the Christian theist this is appropriate behavior on God’s part; the reward of faith (in the afterlife) is so high that strong tests in this life are called for. Others think of Twain’s conclusion that God is a malign thug, or of Ellison’s “The Deathbird” (in which God is outright insane), or of GOOD OMENS: -“Einstein was right; God doesn’t play dice with the universe. The universe is like playing cards with a marked deck, in a dark room, with a dealer who smiles all the time.”- (One of Pratchett’s contributions, I think; he directly uses the creationist slant in an early work, Strata.)
I gather that some of the gnostics held that the God of the bible was an evil imposter. I’m holding out for the theory that God has no particular features at all; He assumes those features that humans need him to have. If the traditional deity is somewhat of a sleaze that may simply reflect that humans can imagine no deity that is not.

… continued on next rock …

RE: Postmodern creationism not being well received.

I can see why not; most creationists aren’t willing to publically declare that their opponents are irretrievably damned.

Surely you jest – many are quite enthusiastic about declaring that their opponents are irretrievably damned.
IIRC, the idea that nothing is fixed until it is perceived predates Schroedinger. Harness (who does not) used it in one of his most obnoxious anti-tech stories, “The New Reality”. (Pratchett observes that Schroedinger description of his famous cat is incomplete as there are three/ possible states: dead, alive, and bloody furious.)
I’m working on a theory that there is no past and no future, just a present that keeps changing.

… continued on next rock …

RE: Frequency of overt creationist enthusiasm for declaring that their opponents are irretrievably damned.

Relatively few that I hear — most of them, at least for public consumption, have figured out that this is not as effective as slyer tactics like “evolution is just a theory” or “evolution is another religion” (or even “you’re interfering with my religion”, which occasionally picks up a leftist witling or two). What they tell their flocks is another matter.

I’m more likely to hear that sort than you are, being closer to the firing line so to speak, both by virtue of residence and internet activities. Still, now that I reflect upon it, you are right. It’s just that the “You’re going to burn in Hell, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah” types are so conspicuously obnoxious.
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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 01/16/2002
Subj: ARL’s musical query

I have heard black powder only in small-caliber arms (e.g. during Colonial demos); it seems much louder than the modern propellant used in the howitzers provided for the Boston performance of the 1812, but I’ve never gotten as close to the cannon as to the Colonial demos. The sound isn’t all that satisfactory but the size of the cannon may be a factor — length as well as width, and even structure. (One of Dan Gallery’s books has a crew getting their boat’s one gun to produce a more impressive sound by fitting a length of large-diameter pipe over the muzzle.)

I suspect that the more efficient powder would make the least noise – the more energy that is dissipated in noise and smoke, the less is available for propulsion.
But smoke can be useful; one of the best fireworks shows on the Esplanade came from the happy accident of a night so calm the smoke from the maroons stayed in place, producing a cloud that flickered under the skyrockets as more maroons went off inside it. The performance would certainly be more dramatic if the cannon also had widely-visible muzzle flashes….

(Have you noticed how geeks will discuss anything mechanical?)

I thought that discussing things mechanical was one of the male traits in poplar mythology. You may be right, though, but I wouldn’t put any stock in it. Geekhood has such cache these days that everyone is claiming a touch of geekhood.
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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 01/08/2002
Subj: grumble?

For those of us who got rather behind in the “holidays” (4 concerts with 2 different choruses…), it would be useful if the front page kept ToCs from a couple of previous months….

That seem’s like a good idea; I’ll make the change. If you had your priorities in order this wouldn’t be a problem.

… continued on next rock …

According to the great state of New Hampshire, if I had my priorities in order I wouldn’t be doing any of this — can you believe it took them five months to get their collective thumbs out of their asses and acknowledge that yes, I was the intended executor of my mother’s estate? Which acknowledgment came just before Thanksgiving…. (I assume you weren’t actually planning such, but just in case: don’t move to NH to die unless you’ve made someone you really don’t like your executor — they’re hell on immigrants’ estates.)

Rest assured; I have no plans to die in NH. My current thought is that I want to go out into the desert and pass away unseen. My hope is that the vultures will strip my bones. I have no quarrel with vultures, save for such as may be found in NH wearing suits.
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From: Lev Luv
Date: 01/10/2002
Subj: just a suggestion

I like your site, one suggestion though. Since it is rather difficult to find certain things in your site, perhaps it would be easier if there were a search engine of your pages.

You are absolutely right. Some one of these days I will actually get one installed.
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From: “Ashbash402” ([email protected])
Date: 01/14/2002

hello i would like to know what inspired jane to write’
thank you and good bless

Were you interested in “Calamity Jane Austin”, the national author of the Texas Republic, Jane Goodwin Austin, one of the Concord authors, or Jane Austen, the British authoress?

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“Calamity Jane Austin”, is the one i was intrested in, but she did write Sense and Sensibility right?

Calamity Jane Austin is the author of “Fence and Fencibility”. I suspect you really want Jane Austen who was the author of “Sense and Sensibility”. May I suggest that you check out the Pemberly Republic.

PS: There is no such person as “Calamity Jane Austin” and never was.

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From: james.mason
Date: 01/09/2002
Subj: Darwin

Have you ever wondered if everything scientists say is nothing but bull-shit. One minute they say something is good for you, the next we get warnings that it’s going to kill you. Was Darwin wrong? Remember there was a time not so long ago when it was proved the earth was flat, that we were the center of the universe. There was even a book written and approved by the church which proved every story in the bible. In modern times, only months ago it was proven that nobody could ever fly around the world in a hot air balloon. It’s since been done.

Could Darwin have got his facts wrong. Could it just be a genetic co-incidence that shows were are close to apes. Could we have evolved from something else.

Keep an open mind and think about it. Is there another species on this planet that farms plants and animals? A species that has soldiers and slavers and builds huge cities underground.

Will the Mason theory one day be accepted as the norm and Darwin laughed at instead. I have as much proof as he has that we didn’t evolve from apes but peoples minds are so closed they don’t even want to listen.

Think about it. How many apes work a farm, milk another creature, build cities. Our great and learned friends say chimps have the inteligence of a five year old. How come they can’t communicate with us? Every five year old I’ve come across can make his views known and can manipulate all around him/her.

The truth will all come out when the Arc of the Tics is discovered. Though I know where it will be found it will still be many decades before the truth will be revealed and our real evolution will be told. But do you want to know now?

Do I want to know about your theory now? Not particularly. I admit that it does sound deliciously offbeat but There Are Things Man Is Not Meant to Know.
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From: “Becky Nelsen
Date: 01/09/2002
web page

A very good friend of mine sent me your link…he is most impressed with you. I must admit it is such a ball to travel round your site….I can hardly wait to make your kitty litter cake for my next potluck.

Kitty litter cake is good. My site is large because I steal from myself. I can get away with stealing from myself because I never notice that I’m being ripped off. The site is diverse because I screw it up when I’m copying from myself and it always comes out different.

This is called creativity.

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From: Escammer
Date: 01/07/2002
bush country

I love socialists.Cuba is calling you LOL

The nifty thing about email is that kooks can send messages without having to use crayons.
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From: jackson hedrick
Date: 01/06/2002
Subj: idiot

idiot savant was introduced in 1887 by dr. j langdon down; rather early for computing don’t you agree?

I’m not quite sure what your point is. Be that as it may, the terms “computing” and “computer” long precede the electronic computer. In days of yore back before the advent of those marvelous machines a computer was a person who computed, either with aid of napiers bones, an abacus, a mechanical calculator, or simply with pencil/pen and paper.
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From: “bird_sausage
Date: 01/03/2002
Subj: amazed

to tell you the truth i was simply surfin the net, to find some poems and came across your site and i’m totally at awe at your work
i love your
autumn leaf poem
amazing just amazing

Thank you for the kind words. In all honesty I do feel that there are some good poems there. Different people have different ideas as to which they are.
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From: jim vanhollebeke
Date: 12/31/2001
Subj: more TALES FROM MY VAULT ….for richard harter!

hi richard,

Hope all is well with you …and HAPPY NEW YEAR! this is jim vanhollebeke and i doubt if you’ll remember me but you published one of my stories on your wonderful cyber-anthology-website …for which, i am eternally grateful.

Au contraire, I recognized your name immediately.
i’m not calling to bug you about anything at all. just wanted to say “hi” and hopefully entertain you with a couple of MY places to visit. HOPE you’ll find time to drop in :

JIM’S WEIRD FOTOS – PHOTO GALLERIESComedy, Family, Special Effects,Pinocchio, Wolves, Elvis, Anthropology, Artwork. Over 100 pictures. What more could you want?! http://photodb.santeeweb.com/index.php?VIEW=187&USER;=194

THE VAULT WARDEN’S STORIES ON THE NET. Read selected tales from Jim’s TALES FROM MY VAULT book series. These stories are all true and really quite hilarious! A tasteful (and VERY tasty) sampler !http://www.opendiary.com/entrylist.asp?authorcode=A599970

Much enjoyed, but some of the stories are quite unbelievable. Mountain oysters are actually very good. It might have been the restaurant or perhaps the bull, you should excuse the expression, had an off day.

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Good to hear from you.
yes. The tales ARE unbelievable.
But I assure you, they ARE completely true.
Believe me!

Of course I believe you. I believe anybody as long as it doesn’t put me to any trouble and doesn’t cost me any money.
The “oysters” …had a ‘funny’ taste not unlike liver and i wondered at the time if the meat had ‘soured’ a bit …and I even wondered if perhaps that part of the bull anatomy was a bit TOO CLOSE to the anus(!). Remember also, that i was in a very …VERY lousy frame of mind at the time. They were AWFUL!
If they tasted like liver there was something definitely wrong. Let that be lesson to you: Never stay at a motel called the Dew Drop Inn, never buy a used car from a man called Frenchy, never play poker with a man called Doc, and never, ever, have mountain oysters at a restaurant that says it has the best mountain oysters in Wyoming.
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From: bernadinederosa
Date: 12/30/2001
Subj: a snow train

My uncle has told me of a snow train…..available once a year from South station and it leaves on one morning in February at 9 am and returns at 9 pm. Do you have any info on this, as it sounds wonderful….He said this is just a once a year event….please let me know more about it if you can…

It does indeed sound wonderful. Alas, I hadn’t heard of it before. However a google search on “snow train” turned up all sorts of fascinating information including the Vermont Snow Express which travels from South Station to Brattleboro and Bellows Falls, Vermont. The next trip leaves Saturday, Feb 23, 2002. The trip is sponsored by the Mass Bay RRE. Their website is at URL http://www.massbayrre.org/. They have a page for getting trip info and a photo gallery of pictures.
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Date: 12/30/2001
Subj: Swords, Rings and The Lord of the Rings

I’ve never seen your site before tonite, but I read over this piece and I’m sick of people always overanalyzing everything they come across. I think if Tolkien meant his masterpiece to be such a piece of shit as you make it out to be he would have written it so. I’m sorry if I offend you by this letter but I am saddened by the crap the world is turning out these days. Good-day, and I hope you find your senses soon.

Amazing. In the, uh, essay there is the parenthetical remark, “(Can anyone possibly be taking this seriously)”. Evidently the answer is yes. Either your sense of humor needs to be sent back to Sears for an overhaul or else you are putting me on. In the latter case you have my congratulations and a hearty “Well Done!”
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From: Larry Hicks
Date: 12/23/2001
Subj: A Bettin’ Woman

Richard, I visit your web site a couple times a month while I’m out slummin… really enjoy the stuff you write and post. First came across the link to your site while visiting Talk Origins. You and I are pretty close in age and share quite a few views.

You admit in public that we share quite a few views!? You do believe in living dangerously, don’t you?
Anyway, since I have cut and pasted some of your jokes over the last year (always with attribution of course) decided it should be payback time. Most of the joke stuff that comes my way, I toss. Some of those which tickle me, I send on. So anyway, here’s one.
[snip joke]

It’s a good joke but one I’ve seen several times before. As a general rule I don’t run jokes that I’ve seen too often even if they are good.

… continued on next rock …

Well, at least I’m getting closer to getting a joke to you! Was just reading your essays on Harry Potter. I had been giving the Potter books a supercilious glance in the stores. After reading your analysis, have decided they’re more “must read” books if I’m to achieve peer status in the literary crowds. 🙂 When I retired in 2000, I told friends that one of my projects was to rehabilitate myself by reading some of the substantial Western literature, all the way from Vonnegut and Bellow back to Plato’s “Republic” which I should have read when younger but dodged. Then here comes R.K. Rowlings and, with help from your subtle, avant garde influence, now I may never make it past reading anything before 1990.

I dunno, there’s no need to rush to read them. I would suggest reading them before seeing the movies. You have to remember that the literary crowd is a pack of whores. If I may quote from my story, The Diary of Sebastian Lord:
The dirty little secret of the literary criticism game is that the high lords of literature are no more immune to the dubious charms of the best seller genre than the masses. The prostitute of literature flashes her thigh and the professor’s eye tracks the tantalizing flesh in synchrony with the eye of the push cart vendor.
They are good reads, though.
Well here is another try, Richard. However, you’ve probably seen it already. I’m sure I did a couple of years back.
[snip joke]
It’s new to me. Thanks muchly, I’ll use it.
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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 12/22/2001
Subj: more on adventure fabulism

These days, many people have jump out of jetliners; some far-gone skydivers collect notable objects jumped-out-of, so the annual convention (in Quincy IL) makes a point of providing a variety: helicopters, hot-air balloons, a biplane (you chin yourself on the upper wing and let go after the pilot rolls 180), and a 737 when they can get the FAA’s approval. The best story I heard from them concerned the year they got one of the two still-flying Constellations to come; as it rolled onto the apron a crowd came charging out, leaving the captain (as he said) to hope that the natives were friendly — until they all started salaaming and chanting “We are not worthy.”

Chortle. I definitely am not worthy.
Return to index of contributors From: Charles Hitchcock ([email protected])
Date: 12/20/2001
Subj: latest MIT hack

Do you track this? I just got a pointer to http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/by_year/2001/the_one_ring/

Delightful. It seems particularly appropriate for MIT.

I have been to see FOTR. Twice so far, actually. I imagine I will see it again a time or two. It’s quite gorgeous, of course, but I find Harry Potter to be the more enjoyable movie. The difference is, and I had not thought of this previously, that Tolkien is quite stuffy. He does not joke; there is no humor in TLOTR. I shouldn’t be surprised if the ages immortalize Tolkien and relegate Rowling in the end to the scrapheap reserved for the literary equivalents of pet rocks; Tolkien’s work has far more substance and is far better written than Rowling’s work. I wonder: Can one be a literary immortal and smuggle a sense of humor into one’s work? Twain managed it as did Shakespeare so I suppose it can be done. For the most part, though, immortality and the ridiculous sleep in separate beds.

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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 12/22/2001
Subj: 11 churches?

A point in your USMC memoir just struck me. When/how was Highmore so large/diverse that it had a used for 11 churches? I can understand it having shrunk to 1100 (at the point you come in) from a larger number when farming was less mechanized, but I wouldn’t have expected it to have the combination of gross population and mixture of beliefs that would call for so many separate buildings.

You have to take into account that the city (all SD burgs are cities even if they have single digit populations) of Highmore serviced the surrounding rural population in Hyde country. IIRC the rural population was about 5,000. I don’t recall all of the variety of churches – there was a Catholic church, a Lutheran, a Congregational, a Methodist, a Baptist, and a Seven Day Adventist that I recall immediately. In those far off days most people went to church on Sunday. Even we did and we were atheists. (Peace with the relatives, you know.)

In 1950 the, ahem, city of Highmore was quite bustling. There were two car dealerships, Ford and Chevrolet, a bakery, a movie house, two drugstores, a creamery, a bank, a small hotel (there was a second hotel but it had closed), a clothing store, a small department store, two grocery stores, and I don’t know what all. Oh yes, a passenger train made stops in Highmore. Today the city population is 850 and the total population of the county is 2000. Lest I forget, two barber shops, a pool hall, and a card room.

Rural SD has depopulated. The wildlife is making a major comeback. The small towns – excuse me, cities – have lost most of their economic base. The besides of which people drive greater distances to shop.

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From: Tabisse
Date: 12/19/2001
Subj: help

I am looking for the radix and merge sort functions (algorithm). Can you please tell me where i can find themt?

greatly appreciated. thanks.

Here is a link: http://www-lsi.upc.es/~rbaeza/handbook/sort_a.html

The usual recommendation in response to this sort of query is to look at Knuth’s book on sorting and searching (vol 3). An alternative is Sedgewick’s book on algorithms. Both the radix and merge sort algorithms can be implemented top down or bottom up.

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This page was last updated January 24, 2002.
It was reformatted and moved November 29, 2005.

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January 2002 TOC
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