Letters to the Editor

 Re: Newton and Harry Potter

Pre-publication Commentary from
Noam Chomsky

Dear Don,

Thanks for sending the paper. Enjoyed it. Will look up the website when I can find a moment -- not easy, I'm afraid.

One correction: I deserve no credit for pointing out that Newton was greatly disturbed by what he called the "absurdity" of his discovery that the mechanical philosophy is false -- something that he refused to believe, and worked to the end of his life to disprove. That's standard history of science, for half a century. Also, it's not so clear that Newton saw a distinction between his (for him, as you say, narrow) interest in properties of motion, etc., and the deeper and more important ones with which he struggled in private. He apparently held the belief (not unreasonable at the time) that the ancients had made remarkable discoveries, but had preserved them only in a hidden form, which he sought to decipher. Even the commitment to alchemy was not at all unreasonable under the physical assumptions of the day: the corpuscularian hypothesis, which Newton accepted, that all matter is made up of the same building blocks, differently arranged. There's a very interesting book by Betty Jo Dobbs and Margaret Jacob on Newton's thinking on all these matters, and lots of other scholarly work.



Letter from Patagonia, southern Argentina

Jane Wieb
Special to SouthernCross Review

I just came down from a mountaintop and ate a whole 1/4 kilo tub of ice cream. YUM! When I headed up, it was New Year´s Day, and hardly any stores were open, so I had along only 6 varieties of sustenance: walnuts, raisins, bread, cheese, wine, and a blob of chocolate. It was obviously enough, since I brought half of it back, except the wine. But I WAS thinking of this excellent Argentine ice cream...

I´m waiting for Bill and Miles to show up. To satisfy their desire to drive more and my desire to hike more, we hatched this plan for me to spend 2 nights in the mountains while they drove further south. It was a fine idea from my standpoint, and I´m sure they have had a fine time too. Bill loves driving new roads, and Miles is happy with a story in the tape player.

So I went on this fine trip from El Bolson, very near where Ana Pelligrini lives when she´s here. I started at the valley bottom, crossing the Rio Azul on the ricketiest suspension bridge I´ve ever seen. This footbridge is probably 100 meters long, with 4 cables hanging across the river from towers on each side. The two bottom cables have wooden slats connecting them, for you to walk on, and the upper ones are for your hands. Occasional wires hold the hand cables to the bottom ones, just to hold things together. The thing that makes it all so interesting is that about 60 % of the slats are missing. Irregularly. So you might get a few steps with relatively solid flooring beneath you, and then you´ll have some steps where there are 2-foot gaps between the slats. With the beautiful Rio Azul there beneath your feet, clear down there. On my way back today I sat by the river to cool my feet, and a man and a woman came along to cross the bridge, tourists. The woman went first, holding on to both hand cables, which is a little awkward anyway because they´re too far apart. So there she goes with her arms poked straight out, concentrating on each step. She got a good 40 feet out when the bridge started wildly undulating, bouncing. Of course it was her husband, jumping and swinging on that bridge, and grinning. (I couldn´t even see his face, but I KNOW he was grinning.) And I thought, "You know, he HAD to do that. Just as surely as he has to grow whiskers on his face, he had to bounce that bridge." It´s on the Y chromosome. So if you find a guy who doesn´t do this, either it´s because you barely know each other, or else he´s a mutant, which might be good, but it´s bound to have its downsides.

So anyway, I started at the river and got to see the whole elevation array, from river bottom to mountaintop. I camped both nights just below tree line, and went up to the mountaintop yesterday. It was beautiful weather, and I could see the whole nearby world. It was all rock and snow and running water, with the occasional spring flower, and warm enough in shorts. Almost. And it was all friendly and non-threatening, except for the occasional gust that surpassed the "friendly" barrier. I had all day to do this 3 or 4 hour hike, so I hung out up there and practiced, "If I Only Had a Brain" on my harmonica.

The forest between here and tree line is lovely too, with giant trees and an open understory, lots of fallen logs. The annoying aspect of the forest was the tabanos, these gigantic, voracious horseflies that do the whole obnoxious stage of their life cycle in a 4-6 week period that´s happening right now. They whiz in circles around you, looking for a good place to sink their jaws. Actually, they might not have jaws. They have huge green eyes and a long proboscus, like a mosquito or elephant. I studied one that was half dead, and was astounded to see its thinner-than-a-needle proboscus opening at its tip, into 3 parts! These 3 parts apparently hinged a few millimeters from the tip, and they would open, and then close again, as smooth as a needle-point again. This made me wonder which position they´d take for the entry into my skin--pointy? Or opened, to grab a chunk? I still don´t know. This might sound sort of cold-hearted, to half kill a creature and then watch its proboscus open and close (and even encourage it with a stick), but I was feeling no mercy toward that species.

The last week we´ve had lots of excellent hiking in perfect sunshine in stunningly beautiful country. Summer in the mountains--I love it. Miles is a reluctant hiker, but has amazing endurance. He got halfway up a mountain the other day listening to tapes on his Walkman, and the other half was done with ice cream bribery. Twice now Bill and I have taken turns hiking on ahead, so that we both get to see the whole thing and Miles doesn´t have to do it all. One of those was to a refugio (cabin) on the slopes of El Tronador (The Thunderer), up in the snow. This mountain has glaciers coming off of it that fall off cliffs, with resounding booms, just like thunder. Very cool. We never saw any chunks falling, just heard them.

So we´ve been hiking some, camping a lot, spending some time in towns, not too much. Getting to practice Spanish. Playing rummy. The time together is good. Not bumpless, but good.

We´ll be home before you know it! I probably won´t even see the internet again before then, although Bill might. He´s much more dedicated. I hope all is well with everyone.

Love, Jane

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