Letters to the Editor

Evolutionary theory asks "how," not "if"; give Superchunk a chance; generous dad is being suckered.


Letters to the Editor
August 26, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Counter-evolutionary
BY MARK WALLACE
(08/19/99)

Mark Wallace correctly
identifies the difference between creationists and Darwinists as
personal, rather than scientific, in nature. Along the way, though, he
repeats verbatim the creationist saw that "Darwin's theory remains just
that: a theory."

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Quoting Mark Isaac, in the Frequently Asked Questions list for
talk.origins:
"Calling the theory of evolution 'only a theory' is, strictly speaking,
true, but the idea it tries to convey is completely wrong ... A theory, in the scientific sense, is 'a
coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation
for a class of phenomena' ... The term does not imply tentativeness or lack of certainty."

I am disappointed that something so basic should need explaining to one
who has taken it upon himself to write about the debate surrounding
evolution. Not understanding the meaning of the term "theory" is an
admission of complete ignorance, not just of evolution, or even biology,
but of science as a whole. We expect that those who write for popular publications
about art, music, politics, etc., know at least the freshman-year
rudiments of their subject; why do we so rarely make the same demand for
science?

-- Keith Adams

I am an evangelical Christian (Presbyterian) who believes in the authority of
the Bible and that mankind was created in the image of God with inherent
worth and dignity. With that said, I am just as dismayed as you are by what
has happened in Kansas, although I'm sure for different reasons.

What upsets me most in this instance is that this kind of decision
discourages thoughtful debate on the subject of our origin. Because of
this, all Christians get lumped into a certain category of closing our
minds and believing in, as you put it, a "humbug" behind the curtain.

Books by people like Whitcomb and Morris who use sloppy science to
prove creationism do no help to the truth of our beginnings, and these men do
not speak for all believers in God, as Wallace suggests.

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I ask you to not paint all Christians as ignorant zealots who will
not engage in debate with thinking people. I am not proud of what my
Christian brothers and sisters have done in Kansas because it does not
allow for the engagement of ideas in thoughtful debate and discourse,
but it does not help matters either when writers like you act like these
people in Kansas speak for every Christian.

-- Doug Perry

Raleigh, N.C.

Statements that evolution is "only a theory" strike me as curious, like
saying that magnetism (for example) is "only a theory". The consensus
view is surely that magnetism is a natural property of certain
materials, under certain circumstances. Theories of magnetism can then
be thought up to try and explain how and why what we observe occurs.

Similarly, the evidence should be overwhelming that the life that
inhabits the earth has changed hugely over time, and that this change
has taken place over millions of years. Dating can be a crude process,
but there are sufficient fossils dated by methods based on radioactive
decay to conclusively state that there have been a succession of epochs
dominated by life forms that simply no longer exist. Although it is true
that it is impossible to strictly prove that there were no birds, no
mammals or whatever, before a certain time, claiming this displays an
ignorance of what really constitutes a scientific fact, which is
attained by an accumulation of evidence. Statements held to such a
strict standard of truth do not exist outside mathematics or philosophy,
and creationists employing such tactics should not pretend that they are
engaged in scientific debate; they are not. Continual change of life on
earth forms the process of evolution; one can then try to form a
theory of evolution, which explains the observed facts.

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Argument between "evolutionists" and "creationists" is then not so much
between two groups with competing explanations for the same thing, but
rather between one group that thinks there is something that needs
explaining and another group that firmly believes there is not.

-- S. A. Gardiner

Fear, marketing and Microsoft
BY KAITLIN QUISTGAARD
(08/19/99)

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Surprise, surprise! Microsoft doesn't play nice.
For at least a decade computer companies have been waging a battle for
market share by playing on the emotions of potential customers. Well,
actually, they have been playing primarily upon one emotion: fear.
Don't buy that hardware, you won't be able to get any software for it.
Don't use a computer with one of those other chips, everyone else uses
ours. Better upgrade now, or else you'll be left behind. Don't use that OS,
the company that made it will go out of business any day now!

Since customers are becoming increasingly sophisticated,
Microsoft has to find a new way to sell with fear: threatening the customer
with legal action. Should we be disappointed? Yes. Should we be
surprised? No.

-- Erik Westlund

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Sharps & Flats: "Come Pick Me Up"
REVIEWED BY DAVE MCCOY
(08/19/99)

There's always "Slack Motherfucker" for Dave McCoy to listen to until he's old.
Like almost every non-lazy post-Nirvana indie rock
record, this new Superchunk album is kind of melancholy and it takes longer to offer
its rewards.

There's no need to be loyal to a group for its own sake, of
course -- but it can pay off if you listen to what they're
doing instead of what you wish they were doing. McCoy didn't like "Indoor
Living," either, so perhaps he missed "Martinis on the Roof," which
outstripped everything that pogo-ing dullards might have expected from this
group. With "Come Pick Me Up," it
looks like the vultures may have gotten him for good.

-- Phil Morrison

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There goes my baby
BY STEPHEN J. LYONS

(08/19/99)

The first year of substandard grades, shame on her. The
second year of substandard grades, shame on you -- for being such an easy touch.

I say this from experience. I sent my son back to a very
expensive private college after a first year in which he:
broke his foot in two places jumping down the cement stairs in the
dorm; got a D in a physics course, convinced me he should take it over to improve his
mark and then got an F; refused to get an
on-campus job because they all "sucked"; and took out credit cards without
telling me and then ran up $1,000 in new jeans, stereo equipment and
computer games. He finished his first year with a 2.06 average, but that
included a winter quarter (the quarter of the broken foot) in which he
got a 0.71 average with the following grades: F, W, W, W, D and C.

I told his psychiatrist that I
thought we should hold off on a second year of college.
"You need to give him support," she snapped. "Kids
like him need to know that their parents are behind them." And so I got
behind him, and took out another $15,000 in loans.

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This is what he did in his second year: used the money I sent
him for rent (he was going to live off-campus, so he
wouldn't be "distracted" in the dorms) to buy more video games and CDs,
leaving an unpaid balance of $800 for the apartment. In the winter quarter of his second
year he achieved a 1.0 average by keeping only one course, "Packing
Materials I," for a four-credit D and dropping the other four classes.

I was guilty of what should count as an
original sin: loving my son so much I completely separated his
performance from my reward.

That was before I brightened up. Going to college is the reward
for years of hard, test-taking, back-breaking work. Mediocre students do not belong in college. Nor do kids who wantonly throw their
parents' money around. Sure my son may, one day, go back to college. But right now he's
got a job spraying vile chemicals onto people's lawns. He hates it.

I've told him he can re-apply to the First Bank of Mom when he
pays off his credit card debts, grows up and displays the drive and
determination to do well in college. But I want you to know, I said it
in a loving and supportive way.

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-- Linda Lee

Stephen J. Lyons rakes his 18-year-old daughter over the coals for failing to measure up
to his standards -- whatever those are. Sorry, but I didn't finish "There Goes My Baby" disapproving of baby; I wanted to defend her against a father who either has no good reason to
dislike his daughter or can't explain what that good reason is. When Lyons writes casually halfway through the article, "Did I mention I was divorced?" I couldn't help reading it as, "Did I mention that I
couldn't get along with my wife either?"

I suspect the behavior Lyons complains about in his daughter is rooted
more in what might have been a long, difficult upbringing by a brittle,
difficult father. Maybe she needed more unqualified love and approval. I'd like to see the article his daughter might write about him, though I'm guessing she's chosen to work
through her frustrations in the traditional ways -- like dating guys her
father disapproves of and piercing body parts, instead of writing nasty
articles about her father and publishing them.

-- Stephen Lovely

Iowa City, Iowa

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Contempt charges sought against Bush

BY ROBERT BRYCE
(08/19/99)

There is no reason for us to put aside our right to know if George W. Bush
used cocaine -- or, for that matter, LSD, marijuana, heroine or steroids. Bush is
asking us to hire him to be president of the United States, and he is obligated
to respectfully and truthfully respond to our legitimate concerns.

For many years, we taxpayers have been spending more to look into the long-ago pasts
of the Clintons, and everyone they have ever met, than we are spending to
give a helping hand to the poverty-stricken Americans who have fallen on
hard times. Of course we have the right to know how quickly another
"independent" counsel would have to be appointed to look into another
president's misdeeds.

The problem with the current focus on cocaine is that
our inquiries are not broad enough. We should be looking at his business
dealings, particularly his partnership with Ross Perot's son and any deals Bush had in the banking industry. Junior's arrogance is insulting, and indicative of the kind of presidency he intends to provide. American voters should tell him his application for president was rejected because it was
incompletely filled out.

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-- Jan Fraser

Suquamish, Wash.

The role of drugs and the drug war are substantive issues, whether Bill
Bradley or any of his political comrades/challengers are willing to admit. The
effect of pernicious U.S. drug laws (both here and abroad) have been devastating. It
is nice to see the effects of such overzealous anxiety about drugs finally coming
home to roost on the doorsteps of the politicians who made it happen. These
candidates may feel uncomfortable with the exposure of their hypocrisy, but they are
in a lot better shape than the people who are in jail for doing the same thing!

-- Tim Fuller

Jackson, Miss.

"Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings"
REVIEWED BY SAUL ANTON
(08/20/99)

There is no such thing as "Judeo-Christian morality" There is Jewish
morality and there is Christian morality and they are not the same thing.
Judaism is a system of law that says certain things are right and certain
things are wrong. All humans are free, morally accountable agents, capable
of making choices, and are thus responsible for their actions, either good or
bad. Christianity, on the other hand, holds that people are inherently sinful
and thus can play no role in their own salvation; they must instead rely on
divine grace which is bestowed only on God's whim. Judaism holds that
everyone, Jewish or gentile, is judged on the justness and morality of their
actions. Christianity holds that only those who believe are saved, regardless
of their acts, and those who do not believe are damned. No two systems of
thought could be more different.

Christians in the United States urge a return to what they call Biblical morality, yet
they themselves only follow it selectively, if at all. I do not mind if Anton wants to disparage Christian
ethics, or even Jewish ones, for that matter, but he should at least know
whereof he speaks before doing so. I resent ignorant people holding Judaism
responsible for Christian distortions of it.

-- Earl Hartman

Vidal's oft-stated belief, repeated here by Anton, that "there are no homosexual people, only homosexual acts," is typically memorable and felicitous; it is also
devoid of evidential merit. Everything that has come to light scientifically in the last 20
years or so contradicts Vidal's assertion in every fundamental way. All
research, psychological and biological, suggests that whatever
homosexuality is, it's a basic orientation. The fact that some people
are less clearly defined in this regard than most of us does not, in any
way, alter this basic conclusion.

Vidal is breathless on the subjects of politics, economics, warfare, culture and religion.
He is unrestrained in his range and comments because he is unrestrained
by the rigors of scholarship and demonstrated competence. He is a witty
essayist and a virtuoso entertainer. But nobody takes him seriously.

-- Stephen Greffe


My first biopsy

BY ELEANOR STACY PARKER
(08/19/99)

I had the same experience as Eleanor Stacy Parker -- abnormal pap smear,
colposcopy, biopsy -- except that it turned out I did have dysplasia and had
to have laser surgery. I, too, was positive I was going to die, but after
some asking around I discovered that many friends and acquaintances had
gone through the same thing. The laser surgery turned out to be less uncomfortable than a pap smear. I've had normal paps since the surgery, about five years ago.

The pap smear is an incredibly useful, simple test that's largely
responsible for declining rates of cervical cancer. Sure, it opens up a lot
of scary possibilities when one comes back abnormal, but as Parker's
experience shows -- as does mine and that of many other women -- it's not a death
sentence. Thanks for publicizing this.

-- Heather Kenny


Crackpot authorities

BY MARK WALLACE
(08/17/99)

My theory, crackpot that I am, is that the
modern sound-bite, Hemingway-esque, Time Magazine style of
writing demands a certain shallowness. And since almost everyone is
educated to believe that this short style is necessarily better, clearer and
more rational, sets of ideas and their elucidations that expand outside
this framework are suspect. From my point of view this is a damaging mass hypnosis.

Take a look at the Elizabethan long sentence, and the incredible visions
and insights that from them emanate. My conclusion is that the crackpots
you mention are cracked only because of our consensual contemporary
language hallucination.

-- George Van Noy


Letters to the Editor

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Evolution George W. Bush Microsoft




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