Letters from our readers.
Feb. 20 1998 3:30 AM

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A Black Hole in Your Logic

In "Big-Bang Theology," Jim Holt writes:

Maybe the universe had a natural cause. But the big bang could not have been caused by prior physical processes. That is because it began with pointlike singularity, which, according to relativity theory, is not a "thing" but a boundary or an edge in time. Since no causal lines can be extended through it, the cause of the big bang must transcend the physical world.

The center of any black hole, according to modern physics, is also a singularity. So, does each and every black hole in the universe also prove the existence of God, since, according to Holt's argument as I understand it, "prior physical processes" could not have created them either?


--Erich SchwarzNew York City

The Age of Finiteness

Slate should probably know better than to publish an essay aimed at deducing the existence of God. Jim Holt's piece "Big Bang Theology" starts out that way, though he ultimately contents himself with the existence of a First Cause. But he too quickly dismisses Stephen Hawking's argument that the finite age of the earth does not imply a beginning. To be sure, Hawking's explanation is rather convoluted. Let me see if I can find a simpler way to present his view. Suppose that our position in time is represented by a positive (that is, non-negative and nonzero) number. Then at each moment we know that only a finite amount of time has elapsed (if we're at time 5, then we know that no more than 5 units of time have passed). But note that there is no first moment: if we're at time t, then time t/2, which is unequal to t, lies in our past. There you go: a universe with no beginning but a finite age.

--Joydip KunduCambridge, Mass.



Contrary to David Plotz's "Assessment," Winnie-the-Pooh is neither American nor British. He is, in fact, Canadian. The original Winnie-the-Pooh was the mascot of a Canadian regiment, an actual living bear named for the city of Winnipeg. Winnie found himself in England when the regiment was transferred to England in the Great War (or World War I). He was placed in a zoo for safekeeping when the regiment went on to France, and in this period Winnie became a great favorite with the English zoo-going public.

And the fictional Winnie-the-Pooh was named for the real bear, a bear born in Canada who never relinquished his Canadian citizenship.

So, if the bear is going anywhere, send him back to Canada. However, we put no claim on the other, lesser characters.


--John TyrrellMedicine Hat, Alberta

Bother, Eh?

David Plotz's polemic as to the citizenship of Winnie-the-Pooh serves only to stoke the fires of controversy swirling around the five unfortunate dolls. Pooh is not American, but neither is he British or a "citizen of the world." He is Canadian. Pooh scholars (there are such things) know that A.A. Milne was a visitor to the Great White North and bought his son's teddy bear in Winnipeg, hence the name.

Besides, the British have Paddington Bear and the Yanks created the stern Smokey (a suitable symbol of American authoritarianism). In the interests of justice, Winnie must be ours!


--John Robertson GrahamVancouver, British Columbia

Boop Boop a Doop, Indeed

Regarding Jonathan Rauch's "Reich Redux"--of course all refined Washington, D.C., hostesses know that mint jelly is not a sauce but a jelly. You spread jelly on bread, like that piece of bread the English call by the misnomer Yorkshire pudding. But they serve that with beef and put gravy on it, so I don't know what bread you spread your mint jelly on when it is served with lamb.

I for one am more than a bit tired of the arrogant, ignoramus, false-elegant pretentiousness of Washington. All these refined ladies and gentlemen of the Washington elite should learn to keep their mouths shut so as not to incriminate themselves. Boop boop a doop, dearie.

--Judith Nelson

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