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Letters to the Editor, September 1999

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 September 1999.

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From: Will Link
Date: 9/25/99
Subj: Boot camp

I was reading you story on I really liked it. What would you say is the closest thing one can do in the civilian word to going through boot camp?

That’s an interesting question. I suppose the closest thing would be the “boot camps” that they have for delinquent youths to serve in in lieu of going to jail. Prison has some of the elements of boot camp – confinement, discipline, and institutional food – but there are important differences. Likewise the military institutes have some of the elements but being in a school is much less concentrated than being in boot camp. If we rule out the quasi-military equivalents the nearest thing might be labor camp construction in a remote area where there is no liquor and no female companionship, just low pay, long hours, and nothing to spend your money on.
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From: Elctrowolf
Date: 9/25/99
Subj: Richard Harter’s World

I just wanted to say that you’ve got a great site! I’ve really been laughing!

I’ve put up a link to your site on my site’s links page. Hope that’s okay. If not, let me know and I’ll take it down. (

Anyway, thanks for having such a fantastic web site!

Naturally I checked out your page. I got a big kick out of your description: “I don’t know this guy, but he has a great site. Jokes, weird stories, science… and I don’t know how to describe some of this stuff! Note: Some of this site’s content is definitely NOT politically-correct!”

Now that is just the effect I want – “I don’t know how to describe some of this stuff”. There is a Bill Murray movie, Where the Buffalo Roam, IIRC, in which Bill Murray plays S. Hunter Thompson. At the end of the movie Murray says, musingly, “No matter how weird it got, it wasn’t weird enough for me.”

It never occurred to me that there was a Ghostbusters fan fiction page which just goes to show how limited my imagination is. I particularly like “Saved by Love”.

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From: [email protected]
Date: 9/19/99
wrt intelligence

Your response to Hobert Robbins ignores some of the fundamental flaws in modern intelligence tests — flaws which have been known for several decades, although they’ve only recently made a public splash.

I grew up in the “right stuff” camp (easy to do when you’re good at taking tests). I didn’t see the problems with this approach until a few years after I took ]aptitude[ tests at the Johnson O’Connor Foundation. They specifically do not deal with anything as loose as “intelligence”; they look for characteristics which tend not to be linked and map which of these characteristics show up in relatively contented/successful professionals. (This involves a certain amount of begging people to take tests, as the contented/successful tend to think they don’t need tests.)

When I was a college freshman, there was a great deal of fuss over a paper by Richard Hernstein that was seen as claiming proof of a racial basis to intelligence. When I got around to reading the paper, what struck me was not so much that his work hadn’t been refereed as that it showed a clear bias towards people with spatial visualization skills. (This same bias appeared when I was given a one-on-one intelligence test by someone who had to administer several as part of degree requirements.) Spatial visualization is a skill — some people have it and some very bright people don’t (e.g., my mother, who skipped two grades and aced the NY State Regents exams).

There are people who aren’t good at anything — “dull” or just lazy — and intelligence tests aren’t quite as culturally biased as they used to be (“Add what’s missing in this drawing of a house” got a crucifix instead of a chimney from many Mediterranean immigrants), but the idea of multiple kinds of intelligence isn’t just a way to make everyone feel equal (cf “Null-P” (Tenn) or “Harrison Bergeron” (Vonnegut)).

The disputes over intelligence and intelligence testing and rather vitriolic history. If you haven’t read it, Stephen J. Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man is well worth the reading. There is a subtle bias in the book – Gould (quite justly) impeaches early work and, by association, applies the same brush to later work.

Hernstein and Jensen before him have worked the same territory. I haven’t read The Bell Curve but I gather it is out of the same tradition. The thesis runs much as follows:

(1) The term, general intelligence, is meaningful and g, as measured by intelligence tests, is a good measure of general intelligence.

(2) General intelligence is highly heritable, with a heritability of about 75%.

(3) There is a heritable difference of about 15 IQ points between african-americans and people of European descent.

(4) Social policy should take this difference into account.

This line of argument is, ahem, politically incorrect and accordingly is the subject of vigorous dispute along a number of lines. Thus it is argued that g is an artifact of testing, that it represents a reification, et cetera. IMO most of these arguments are not sound. It is, of course, the case that general intelligence is not the entire story of human talents but that was always recognized.

A more subtle version of these arguments lies with modern theories of evolutionary psychology and theories of theories of the mind. The point here is that the mind is considered to be a collection of interconnected modules. Of these, the “language module” per Chomsky and Pinker is the most persuasive. The ability to speak and use language (which is a very difficult achievement) is bred into the species; one can be quite stupid and still be able to use language. One can argue that the notion of general intelligence simply ignores capabilities of intelligence that are taken for granted.

The claim that g is highly heritable is one with problems. The problem is that heritability by definition is the percentage of the determination of a trait in a population which shares a common environment. Beyond that, there are problems making comparisons. The best data comes from studies of identical twins raised separately. There aren’t many data points and some of the studies are, to put it politely, suspect. As a further issue there is evidence (there was a recent paper in Nature on this) that much of the supposed heritability of g is actually due to common environment in the womb.

The 15 point difference which causes the fuss appears to be real although some of it may be unresolved cultural bias. However it is just here that the heritability breaks down. In a guest editorial in ASF L. Sprague de Camp pointed out that the Japanese equivalents of the untouchables show the same difference; in this case, however, the origin of the caste (I don’t recall the name offhand) is quite recent and there is no reason to believe that it started out with a deficiency of IQ.

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From: John
Date: 9/18/99
Subj: Much “A” do about something! very well spoken!

Loved your web site! Do your stuff. It’s good to hear”read” on a Saturday morning.Love John!!!!!

Ah, the voice of another satisfied fan.
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From: Hobert Robbins
Date: 9/18/99
Subj: Congratulations and thanks

I congratulate you on a very interesting site, which I have visited only briefly. You seem to have a very perceptive awareness of that human experience which is called life. Thanks for sharing your insights, and keep up the excellent work.

I do wish to thank you for your kind words; I am not, after all, immune to the blandishments of flattery. However it occurs to me that perceptive awareness is actually rather common, albeit spotty in places.
More importantly, you seemed to have captured the fundamental essence of exploratory inquiry with a balanced blend of humor and serious thought in a world filled with frivolous academic and political pursuits.
One has a mind; one has to give it employment lest it succumb to idle mischief.
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From: Hobert Robbins
Date: 9/18/99
Subj: Essence of Intelligence

Your poem about “happy thing” is excellent and readily demostrates a perceptual awareness accessible by only a fortunate few.

If you pursue an inquiry into human intelligence it becomes apparent that the best minds in history and the present cannot define the qualities defined as “human intelligence,” At best, the the tests designed to measure intelligence do not even approximate nothing more than a convenient way ot establishing a social and political hierarchy subject to failure and self-destruction at any given time.

A more realistic approach is to estimate intelligence on the basis of the total results of intelligence due in part to the evolutionary nature of the intelligence process. IQ tests measure a rate of learning, not broad base or depth of learning and in general are a better predictor of failure than of success.

I surmise that the arguments over intelligence and intelligence testing have much to do with two tendencies embedded deep within the human psyche. The first of these is the granting of pre-eminence to those who have the “the right stuff” and the second is an obsession with social fairness. Thus, in the arguments over IQ, those who focus on g as a meaningful measure are in the right stuff camp, whereas those who emphasize the multi-dimensionality of intelligence are in the social fairness camp.

The hand of heaven is placed on some and not on others; in the end, though, all are plucked and laid in graves.

If a working hypothesis is considered which considers the universe the product of a universal supreme creative intelligence situated within a different context than that which precipitates human intelligence, that there is an unlimited realm of opportunity for exploration in relating human existence and intelligence, and universal existence and universal intelligence accessible by humans.
Rather like Stapledon’s Starmaker.
The history of a given “truth” relating to the motion of an electron with the structure of an atom suggests that any scientific truth is essentially BS(babble scatter) until a new and more scientific view replaces it with a “new” evolutionary truth.
I disagree. Babble scatter is not a good description of scientific truth. I am not yet of a mind as to the nature of scientific truth; however I opine it is better thought of in terms of true=faithful rather than true=”it is the case”.
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From: TGRAVES365
Date: 9/16/99
Subj: what do you do if you are a girlfriend of a marine

it seems so hard for me to deal with my boyfriend leaving to into the marines. he left for boot camp a week ago. i can’t see him or talk to him for three months. we have been together for a year and i love him more than anything. but somedays it just seems so hard for me to deal with. i hope that he is thinking about me as much as i am thinking about him.

The truth is that he is going to be very busy for the next three months. In boot camp they run you ragged and they take you to the edge of misery. I’m sure he will think of you when he has the chance but he won’t have a lot of free time. He will change quite a bit during boot camp; for that matter you will find yourself changing too. Life is like that. I hope that everything works out for the two of you.
… continued on next rock …

i hate to bother you, but what you said seems so true, but so hard for me to deal with. i have written him so many letters and have not heard from him yet. his mom says that he is really serious about me. i just want to hear from him and know how he feels. i am scared that his love for me will change, instead of growing stronger, i just don’t know what to do, i miss him so much, i am just waiting now to hear from him. tiffany

why can’t it be easy for me, i mean i should be happy and proud of him for what he is doing, i guess i am just scared of losing him or our relationship ending.

There’s not much I can say about how your relationship will develop. What will be will be, for good or for bad. There is one thing that you should know, though. When somebody is in boot camp their whole world narrows down to the experience that they are undergoing at the time. I wouldn’t worry about his not writing you; he doesn’t have much free time and he is undergoing a lot.

If I may offer some advice (nothing is so useless as advice from older persons) you need to accept that he is not going to be a part of your life in the immediate future. I’m not talking about your relationship – that may well grow and deepen. What I am saying is that he is physically absent and is going to be physically absent for a while; you have to adjust your life and your thinking and accept that.

I know it isn’t easy (more useless advice from older persons) but you will find that it becomes easier as time goes by. That is a good thing, really. One of the things that is important in a relationship is being able to deal with separation. No matter how much we love someone we can’t be with them all of the time forever.

In short, don’t worry about not hearing from him. He has his own problems right now. If he’s serious about you he will when he can.

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From: [email protected]
Date: 9/14/99

You probably remember Glenn Blacow, who among other feats was one of the people who introduced D&D; to this area. His imagination was more than a little whimsical; the denizens of his dungeon included tates, lurts, typoes, and little old ladies in tennis shoes.

Indeed I do. Whatever happened to Blacow anyway? And speaking of such things, has anyone ever done a story in which the USA is overwhelmed by an army of cloned little old ladies in tennis shoes?
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From: Marge ([email protected])
Date: 9/15/99
Subj: about the marines

Hello, My son left for Parris Island on Monday. Of course there is a hurricane there. How could it be otherwise. I enjoyed reading your accounting of your time in the Marines. Thank-you. Now please just tell me he will make it out of boot camp alive.

Really good timing there. I wouldn’t worry too much about your son coming out of boot camp alive – all things considered it’s probably a lot safer than being at home. For two things, in boot camp you can’t drink and you can’t drive a car. The truth of the matter is that running all day and being yelled at by drill instructors is healthy and good for you – it just doesn’t feel like it at the time.
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From: Merv
Date: 9/16/99
Subj: Great Page

I have been thinking about the marines after college and your Page is a great reference for the true story, not what recruiters say.

I dunno about the true story – I suppose every marine has his own version of the true story – but it’s fairly honest. My recollection is that the recruiters were honest (I’m not talking about the TV ads) but that I hadn’t a clue as to what they were talking about.
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From: Snikkos
Date: 9/16/99
Subj: The Cold Equations

Thank you so much for writing this essay. I left my text book in my locker and wasn’t able to finish reading the story.(Cold Equations) If it hadn’t been for your eloquent essay, I would have had no idea how it ended. Thank you.

You’re welcome. I’m glad to know that my web site is a resource for students in distress. I have notes for a much improved version of the essay which I will put up on the web in due course.
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From: Richard Thurston
Date: 9/10/99
Subj: None Really

Popped in for a minute but I will be back. Have enjoyed what postings of your I have read. Unlike many I won’t comment on the ones I haven’t (read). Must go. Still can’t find my keys.

Since you haven’t followed up I assume you still haven’t found your keys.
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From: Joseph E. Frierson
Date: 9/6/99

Thanks for your delightful page. I apologies for not having something of equal quality to offer in exchange.

That’s an interesting collection of links that you have there. My collection of stuff doesn’t have any positive statements about religion and such like (although there are more than a few gibes cast) but not because I have no views; I simply haven’t gotten around to putting into the electronic ether.
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From: SiouxZeeee
Date: 8/1/99
Subj: Greetings from a new fan

I’m not a writer so don’t expect anything clever.
I have no idea how I stumbled across your site but I love it.


I don’t know how you stumbled across it either. You must be lucky, I guess.
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Date: 9/6/99
Subj: Crazy Man, Tha’ts pretty cool!!

Here’s one for you.
There will be a Jesus imitator.
Elvis has many imitators.

Now that you mention it, yes.
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From: tim
Date: 9/7/99
Subj: hello

I just ran across your web page. Oh man its so funny. I hope your able to keep it going……thank you for the laughter…..i apreaciate it…..tim

As the sign above the urinal says:
We aim to please
You aim too, please
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From: Donald M. McLeod
Date: 8/27/99
Subj: Wonderful Site

I really enjoyed your site. I’m strictly an amateur in these matters. I would question however whether Teilhard’s writings are still considered heretical by the Catholic Church. I’m under the impression that the Church finally embraced his writings. I may be quite wrong but you may want to check it out.

I haven’t checked directly but I’m pretty sure that they are considered to be heretical. My understanding (and it has been a good while since I looked at Teilhard’s theology) is that his conception deviates substantially from Christian theology.
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From: Janice Chambers
Date: 9/9/99
Subj: Boot camp

I am thinking of becoming a reserve but I want to know what boot camp is like. especially if you need to know how to swim. can you help me and tell me some things that will be required of me in boot camp.

As a caveat, I was in boot camp before you were born. From what I understand, though, it hasn’t changed all that much. You don’t need to know how to swim; if you can’t they will teach you. Boot camp is very simple: You won’t get enough sleep; people will yell at you; they will run you ragged; you will be harrassed (not sexually); the DI’s will cheerfully inform you that you are the lowest form of life on the face of the Earth. There is only one thing you need to know: You can take the shit they hand you and thrive on it. When you feel that you can’t take it just remember that everybody else can and they aren’t any better or tougher than you. There is this: You will be a better person for going through boot camp; you will know your limits and will know that there is a lot more you can take and a lot more you can do than you ever thought you could take or do.

The besides of which you are a woman. Some day you will probably have children; from all I understand boot camp isn’t as hard as giving birth and you know you can do that.

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From: Anthony R. Lewis
Date: 8/20/99
Subj: The Shattered Stone

It is clear to me that “The Shattered Stone” is based upon the 16th season of Dr. Who–“The Key to Time” in which the Doctor and Romana must track down the shards of the key and reassemble them. This ran 1978-1979.

The individual episodes were written by Robert Holmes, Douglas Adams, David Fisher, David Fisher, Robert Holmes, and Bob Baker & Dave Martin.

It doesn’t matter whether of not Menard wrote her story before 1978 because the TARDIS could easily have delivered the scripts.

Keep up the good work.

I don’t think we need to appeal to the properties of the TARDIS. Regrettably, Dr. Childers did not include the date of composition of the Giselle Menard work in his forward. (I neglected to note that Childers wrote an extensive forward which is quite backward of me.) It is quite conceivable that The Three Faces of Adam was written after or even concurrently with the Dr. Who episodes.

It is noteworthy that the forward mentions that “Adam West”, the name which the otherwise anonymous SF fan was known, was a Dr. Who enthusiast. This lends force to your speculation. One might object that it is specified that the three novellas are based on novels. However the matter is not clear. The principle source for Childers’ forward would have been “Adam West” who is notorious for his rather liberal views towards taking credit for works that bear a striking resemblence to works written by other. I need only mention the suppressed fan novel, Sty in the Sky, which was the occasion of a lawsuit by Niven and Pournelle. It is quite conceivable that “Adam West” palmed off a plagiarized version of the Dr. Who episodes as his own work.

Dr. Childers did, of course, interview Giselle Menard at the institution where she is confined. As a matter of respect for her literary reputation he did not quote her remarks.

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This page was last updated September 25, 1999.
It was reformatted and moved December 15, 2004

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