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Letters to the Editor, February 1998

This a traditional letter column. You are encouraged to write a letter of comment on anything that you find worthy of comment. It will (may) be published in this column along with my reply. As editor I reserve the right to delete material; however I will not alter the undeleted material. E-mail to me that solely references the contents of this site will be assumed to be publishable mail. All other e-mail is assumed to be private. And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication. Oh yes, letters of appreciation for the scholarly resources provided by this site will be handled very discreetly. This page contains the correspondence for February 1998.

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From: Doug Riddle
Date: 02/01/98
Subj: What a great time waster! Loved your site.

Dear Richard:

I was knocking around looking up stupid people tricks and stumbled across your Slum City of the Mind. I wrote earlier about the urban legend you have under the darwin award link. Darn shame the really good ones are all made up!

Anyway, I have been shifting through your site ever since. You have a facinating collection of… What would you call it. Suddenly I cannot find a label. I’ll settle for something specfic like stuff. You have a lot of fancinating stuff here.

Next time I will have to bring that bottle of scotch. All I have is some Bailey’s and I am waiting until after all the off-spring have sprung off to sleep to relax with the last of it. Nothing like an ear-peircing shriek of “Daddy! She cut my hair!” echoed by “Well she wrote on my nose with a Marks-A-Lot!” to take the relaxation out of a foot stool, a rocker, a good book, soft rain and bottle of Bailey’s.

One hour and counting! Any day you wake up is a good one, if you’re still standing at the end of it, you win! Thanks for giving a dad something to do whilst his younguns discover pecking orders.

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From: Doug Riddle
Date: 02/01/98
Subj: New Darwin Award Winner for 1997… Urban Legend.

Dear Richard:

Slow night down here. I went back and checked the page since you indicated you updated it. I was talking to the owner-operator of earlier today and she wants to be sure everyone knows she isn’t trying to stake out the Darwin Awards as her personal property. She is very much an internet for the people kind of person. I had suggested she compile the stuff for a book one day. Personally, I like angry women, that fire in their eyes makes them exciting, but there is a limit. I was glad there was a thousand or more miles of wire between us! So, just so you don’t take her the wrong way, she is out to edify the awards, not capitilize on them.

I was a bit surprized when I found that Darwin was a lady, I suppose it’s the Southern Chauvinist in me. She is quite a lady, and an interesting one to boot.

Well, it’s almost time for another go round with some Hemmingway and a glass of Bailey’s. The kids are not only in bed, but I think they may actually be asleep. Maybe I’ll make it a cup of dark roast coffee and Star Trek paperbook. Then again, I could start scanning the old photo albums again, the seemingly never ending project to save the family tin-types and B&W; photos from the ravages of time and kids…

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Sure beats freezing your butt off and getting shot at for four hundred bucks a month! Maybe I’ll put the Baliey’s in the coffee and sit on the porch and call an old Army buddy. Yeah, that’s the ticket, we have a winna!

By the way, I did have fun putting my site up. If it ain’t any fun, why bother? Which of course explains the unfinished state of the site. When it feels like work, I quit. I do this stuff for enough people as work. I play with mine. Now there’s a lead-in for Groucho Marx. Well, it’s prime time for some downtime. I think I will go enjoy the rain for a while. I’ll probably pop back in our your site later. Your sense of humor seems to match my own… I worry about the implications of that later.

Thanks for writing – your notes were much enjoyed. Bailey’s will work quite well in lieu of scotch – very well indeed. As you can tell I don’t put a lot of work into producing individual pages. No java scripts, no frames, and not a whole in the line of fancy graphics. The only thing I make extensive use of are tables to neaten things up a bit. Some one of these days I’ll get around to doing a jazzy page or two.

Stuff is the right word or, if it isn’t the most precise word, it’s probably the kindest word. It’s pretty random. As to your sense of humor being like mine, don’t worry about it. I never do. Of course I get strange looks but I don’t worry about it.

That’s a surprise about the operator being a woman given the gender split on the internet. No doubt times change (keep up, who me? Never hotchee) but the Darwin awards seem more like male humor than female humor.

Have a drink on me (but you pay for it) and enjoy the silence of the lambs.

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From: Harvey Prohow
Date: 02/04/98
Subj: Web site.

Thank you for your web page!! I have not laughed so much in years.

Glad you liked it. Check in again once in a while. It keeps growing, sort of like fungus after a good rainstorm.

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From: Larry Hoover
Date: 02/09/98
your piece on C.S. Lewis

You wrote: “Are the horrors simply the end result of the small sins, written large, or is there something else beyond “diminishing”? He doesn’t ask the question, let alone answer it.”

As you, yourself, have already arrived at the point, it would seem obvious that it wasn’t Lewis’ job, necessarily, to ask and answer every conceivable question. It appears that he was successful in stimulating you to make the connection on your own, after having read what he wrote.

I’m not sure that I understand you here. I read you as taking it for granted that the answer to the question is “The horrors are simply …” and that I recognize this. That answer is one that I am rejecting as a default. The question is serious; the second clause is serious.

It is not a matter of a job. Lewis implicitly presents a conception of the nature of evil in his fictional work, e.g. the interplanetary triology, the Narnia series, the Great Divorce, and the Screwtape Letters. It is the scope and soundness of his conception that is at issue here. His conception (on my reading) implicitly answers the question with “The horrors are simply …”. But such a way of answering is not good; it is an answer that does not account for the question that he does not ask.

My own reading of Lewis’ work led me to consider the cumulative impact of all human beings self-obsessed in their (our) own “pettinesses.” It doesn’t take a “rocket scientist” to see the ramifications of such. How does any authoritarian, despot, dictator, come to power except that others allow it through their (our) collective negligence.

This is by no means clear. Pettiness and petty sins abound every where. It is only in some places that the despots come to power. If people were morally perfect then despotism would never occur; that much one may grant. But people are not and never have been; great evils do not inevitably follow in the train of that imperfection.

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From: Larry Hoover
Date: 02/11/98
your piece on C.S. Lewis

You have cited some “truisms.” No argument from me on these statements. But, on the subject of despots: I have seen despots at every level of society, at every age – from toddlers to old men / women. It seems obvious to me, at least, that the extent / existence of actual, palpable evil is determined by several factors: the will and intelligence of those who are “bent” that way, the degree to which counter-vailing powers are present (the presence of others who can and will keep the “evil person” in check), the cumulative effects of neighborhood, community, state, national experiences which tend to condition the culture (the collective attitudes of everyone involved / affected in a particular circumstance), the relative economic / social / political power inherited or gained by those on either / both ends of the “good / evil spectrum” at any given place and time in history.

These seem to be the same truisms elaborated a bit. However we’re drifting a bit. We have human institutions which are constructed in response to how human beings are rather than how they ought to be. (Whether the notion of “ought to be” is really sound is another matter; in any case humans are quite fond of “ought to be” so it is part of our social structure.) A despot is a comprehensible evil; they are limited in their evil. However there are these baroque monsters and monstrosities – a Dacey, a Dahmer, a Buchenwald, a Caligula – who do not fit so easily into the schema. Sometimes they act alone; sometimes they sweep a society along with them. Not all despots are monsters of evil; most are not. Lewis, on my reading, wants to fit all evil into a pattern of pettiness and diminishment as in _The Great Divorce_. Granted that a particular person or being may start out with great powers but they are diminished as they are bent.

Lewis, again on my reading, is principally concerned with the individual and the choices that individuals make. This is very much to the point for each of us; we are responsible for ourselves. However we are social beings and we live in the context of societies. You make the point that the evils of our societies are constructed from our small evils. Even so. But not all societies are equally evil even though people are much the same everywhere; social mores delimit what they perceive as evil.

In this regard, George Orwell made a sharp point in his essay on Dickens. He pointed out that those with a reformist bent follow one of two paths. Either they try to make people better or they try to reform institutions. Lewis, in so far as he is concerned with reform (and it debatable whether he is in any meaningful sense) is very much in the former camp.

I count it as a fault in him that he is parochial. His sins and accounts are very much attuned to English middle class life. They are mostly sins of self-indulgence. His writing is very distant from the great horrors, not only of our century but of the past.

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From: Michael Symes
Date: 02/24/98
Proper Boskonian, The Gory Years

Yo Dickie!
What’s this “refugee from Mattapan” jive? Are you dissin’ me and my homeys from the ‘hood? You ripe for a drive-by now! Concord got streets too, yeah! Blow away you AND your walker… Time to upgrade my BottleofScotchScape Browser, upload some phat Gif graphics to your site…
Anyway, love your zine

Yo, indeed.
What is this rot about your homeys from the ‘hood. Hoods from the ‘hood, the lot of them. I wager that most of that haven’t been blown away have been guests of the state for the last twenty years.

This illustrates the seamy side of reminiscing about one’s youth. Word of it gets out to people who knew you back then. They have this unpleasant habit of knowing the truth and talking about it. Mumble, mumble, grumble, grumble.

However the idea of having some real Symes artwork on my electronic fanzine or whatever the hell my site is has real merit.

One of the things that I appreciate about Concord is that they are very good about clearing all of the snow off of the streets. The trick is that everybody in Concord goes to bed early so the city can truck all of the snow away in the late evening. Those rumors about rolling up the sidewalks at nine o’clock are strictly bogus though. They wait till ten.

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From: Ann Phillips
Date: 02/26/98
Subj: correction

In your A Little Test you have forgotten that dates past the year 0 are written with AD coming before the year. Therefor, in your first question, the date would be AD 1700, not 1700 AD.

Thank you. Your observation about usage is correct. You err, though; I hadn’t forgotten it – I never knew it. (There is no end to the things I don’t know. What is worse is that so that so many of the things that I do know aren’t so.) I’ve corrected my lamentable slip.

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site home site map letters February 1998 email

This page was last updated February 27, 1998.
It was reformatted and moved on November 4, 2004