Letters to the Editor

(December 29, 2008 - January 1, 2009)


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2008 Holiday Epiphany

Here's a thought for the Holiday Season. I was driving around amidst frenzied holiday crowds just now and I was struck by an epiphany of sorts, and I thought you all might appreciate it. If not -- no big deal, just hit delete.

Anyway, as I was standing in lines and navigating crowded stores, I got to thinking about how our culture imposes this nearly universal deadline on all of us at this time of year -- "last day to mail packages to arrive by 12/24!" and so on -- and how stressful most of us consider it, and with ample cause.

In the last 48 hours I have witnessed -- in person -- a man being escorted from a large chain bookstore while yelling, "I WISH YOU WOULDN'T DO THAT," amazingly slow traffic, outrageously long lines at two airport security checkpoints and a post office, aggressive scrambling for parking spaces, and some severe angst and panic over "The Deadline That Looms Before Us" -- emanating from seemingly everywhere around me.

And suddenly it hit me -- if, at least once a year, I can become an ABSORBER of angst instead of a REFLECTOR thereof, am I possibly more closely aligning myself with the "True Spirit of the Holidays"? In other words, as the people around me make decisions in public that affect me, which would ordinarily spark an angry or stressful response, could I -- should I? -- simply ABSORB the stress, smile, and recycle it into something a bit calmer, somewhat akin to a tree absorbing CO2 and producing oxygen? Just yesterday my 72-year-old mother claimed that she possesses the ability to control her own blood pressure at any given moment. Could I perhaps fortify myself, too, maybe just one or two weeks out of the year when blood pressures seem to be universally rising?

Very shortly after this occurred to me, a van, through a subtle but overly aggressive move in a mall parking lot, caused me to completely miss "my" light cycle and have to remain stuck in a parking lot aisle with his big, white, uncaring, unmarked vehicle standing directly in front of me, blocking my ability to escape from the mall -- and costing me a few more minutes out and about.

"Well, here you go, David," thought I, "your first opportunity to put this abstract epiphany into some form of action!"

So I began a smile, and while waiting patiently for the next light cycle to arrive -- thinking happy-ish thoughts about my upcoming choir concert this Sunday and all of you who are planning to attend -- up runs a tall, well-muscled, bearded guy, who apparently had also just been victimized by one of the white van driver's inconsiderate moves. I watched in slow-motion amazement as he reached back and delivered a powerful, loud, overhand blow to the side of the white van's exterior, then ran back past my car to wherever he had parked or was idling behind me. A scary moment indeed!

Of course, I couldn't help but recognize this as the diametric, polar opposite reaction to the one I was attempting to try on. Perhaps the instigating traffic incident I had not witnessed was a lot scarier and angst-producing than the one that affected me; but I kid you not, the white van made several more bad driving decisions before exiting that mall directly in front of me, and took lots of honking from other cars as a result -- in other words, he sure deserved it, and he got what he deserved -- just not from me!

In summary, then, could a lowly human being's imprecation to a barbaric society to "turn the other cheek" when struck have been a key to our evolution, requiring small, everyday manifestations in not-so-physically-violent situations? No one in San Francisco is out there getting hit in the cheek (that I saw) this evening, but there certainly is a lot of road rage, honking of horns, thwacking of vans, and other cathartic forms of stress release.

Could the run-up to the Holiday Season be the one time we all get to communally measure -- under a fairly universal, externally-imposed deadline -- the degree to which we have evolved as a peaceful species over the past 2,000 years -- by OPTING NOT TO RESPOND?

OK, forget "Peaceful" -- this is a time of war, and our economy is wilting after eight years of post-traumatic stress-inducing shocks -- but would it be feasible to try out ABSORBING the stress of others without passing it back to them, or passing it along to anyone else?

I think maybe, if I can master that one over the next several Holiday Seasons, I may be ready to move on to the more advanced problem often referred to as "Spreading Peace."

Have an Absorbing Time This Holiday Season!

David Saslav
San Francisco, California, USA - December 19, 2008


Some Very Important Climate Change Quotations

To the Editor:

Current climate models don't take into consideration melting methane hydrate emissions, which will soon overwhelm any cuts we make:

For instance, there is an area six times the size of Germany containing about 540 billion tons of carbon off the Siberian coast. That submarine permafrost is perilously close to thawing. Three to 12 kilometers from the coast the sea sediment is just below freezing. The permafrost has grown porous, there is a loss of rigor in the frozen sea floor, and the surrounding seawater is highly oversaturated with solute methane.

"If the Siberian (submarine) permafrost-seal thaws completely and all the stored gas escapes, the methane content of the planet's atmosphere would increase twelve fold. The result would be catastrophic global warming." -- "A Storehouse of Greenhouse Gases Is Opening in Siberia," Spiegel, 17 April '08.

NASA's top climate scientist, James Hansen, says that the release of methane clathrates from permafrost regions and beneath the seabed will unleash powerful feedback forces that could produce runaway climate change that cannot be controlled - the so-called methane time bomb -- a prediction of radical environmental transformation far worse than the worst-case scenarios theorised by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Furthermore, any carbon diet strategy would be dependent upon clean coal:

"The vast majority of new power stations in China and India will be coal-fired; not 'may be coal-fired'; will be. So developing carbon capture and storage technology is not optional, it is literally of the essence." -- "Breaking the Climate Deadlock," Tony Blair, June 26, 2008

But, Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, has estimated that capturing and burying just 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fire plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide -- a massive undertaking requiring decades and trillions of dollars. "Beware of the scale," he stressed.

In other words, it is doubtful that even the unrealistic cuts President-elect Obama committed to support in the campaign will significantly slow global warming.

"Japan, like the European Union, hasn't let its failure so far to meet Kyoto emissions-reductions targets stop it from setting even more ambitious goals, like a 50% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050. But how to do that? If getting within shouting distance of Kyoto's targets could cost Japan $500 billion, how much would it cost to cut emissions twelve-fold more?" -- Keith Johnson, The Wall Street Journal, 19 March 2008.

"By the year 2050, the Census Bureau projects that our population will be around 420 million. This means per capita emissions will have to fall to about 2.5 tons in order to meet the goal of 80% reduction. It is likely that U.S. per capita emissions were never that low -- even back in colonial days when the only fuel we burned was wood." -- "The Real Cost of Tackling Climate Change," The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, "I know of no realistic person who thinks carbon dioxide emissions are going to do anything but grow. Most European countries are not meeting their emissions goals, and of the ones that have, it's because their economies are collapsing. In the United States, this notion that we're going to reduce our emissions by 80 percent is pure fantasy." -- Pete Geddes, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, 2 April 2008.

"I'm going to tell you something I probably shouldn't: we may not be able to stop global warming. We need to begin curbing global greenhouse emissions right now, but more than a decade after the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, the world has utterly failed to do so. Unless the geopolitics of global warming change soon, the Hail Mary pass of geoengineering might become our best shot." -- Bryan Walsh, Time Magazine, 17 March 2008.

"The alternative (to geoengineering) is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity and a return to an Earth that freely regulates itself but in the hot state." -- Dr. James Lovelock, August 2008.

"We underestimated the damage associated with temperature increases, and we underestimated the probability of temperature increases" -- Nick Stern, 2006 report on the economics.

"Few seem to realise that the present IPCC models predict almost unanimously that by 2040 the average summer in Europe will be as hot as the summer of 2003 when over 30,000 died from heat. By then we may cool ourselves with air conditioning and learn to live in a climate no worse than that of Baghdad now. But without extensive irrigation the plants will die and both farming and natural ecosystems will be replaced by scrub and desert. What will there be to eat? The same dire changes will affect the rest of the world and I can envisage Americans migrating into Canada and the Chinese into Siberia but there may be little food for any of them." -- Dr James Lovelock's lecture to the Royal Society, 29 October 2007.

'Leemans and Eickhout (2004) found that adaptive capacity decreases rapidly with an increasing rate of climate change. Their study finds that five percent of all ecosystems cannot adapt more quickly than 0.1 C per decade over time. Forests will be among the ecosystems to experience problems first because their ability to migrate to stay within the climate zone they are adapted to is limited. If the rate is 0.3 C per decade, 15 percent of ecosystems will not be able to adapt. If the rate should exceed 0.4 C per decade, all ecosystems will be quickly destroyed, opportunistic species will dominate, and the breakdown of biological material will lead to even greater emissions of CO2. This will in turn increase the rate of warming' -- Leemans and Eickhout (2004), "Another reason for concern: regional and global impacts on ecosystems for different levels of climate change," Global Environmental Change 14, 219-228.

"There is no linear predictability in terms of how ecosystems respond. The phenomena of collapse is one that we have under-appreciated, partly because of the feed-back mechanisms that we are still trying to understand." -- Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, October 2007.

"Many good scientists say that by 2050, almost every summer in Europe will be as hot as it was in 2003." -- "The illness in Planet Earth," BBC, 6 July 2006.

Brad Arnold
Saint Louis Park, Minnesota, USA - December 15, 2008


New Figures Detail Logging Giant's Vast Herbicide Use

To the Editor:

Statistics released today by international environmental group ForestEthics show for the first time the total quantity and variety of toxic herbicides used by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) as part of their controversial logging practice.

Compiled between 1995 and 2006, the data reveals that California's largest private landowner has used over 770,000 pounds of toxic chemicals to manage their tree plantations across Northern California. The questionable safety of these chemicals, and the sheer quantity used in the watersheds of California’s rivers and streams, raises questions about whether SPI is using herbicides as a crutch, when they should be used as a last resort.

Contact ForestEthics at 415.407.3426 to learn more about SPI's herbicide use in your specific county.

"The evidence for pesticides acting as endocrine disruptors affecting everything from sexual development, to immune function, to cancer is increasing and is no longer simply a hypothesis," said Professor Tyron Hayes of the Department of Integrative Biology at Berkeley and an expert on atrazine. "The task now is to figure out exactly what and how much humans and wildlife are exposed to and assess the relative risks to environmental health and public health."

One of the toxins detailed in the report, atrazine, was the second most frequently detected pesticide in EPA's National Survey of pesticides in drinking water wells. Studies have shown that at levels 1/30th of what the EPA allows in drinking water, atrazine can cause male frogs to grow ovaries. It is also suspected to have caused male fish in the Potomic River to grow eggs. ForestEthics' records find that SPI has used over 91,450 pounds of atrazine. Its use is banned by the European Union.

Imazapyr is also used by SPI in their forestry practices. It has been shown to increase the number of brain and thyroid cancers in male rats and can be persistent in soil for up to a year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has gone on record stating that imazapyr is a threat to endangered species in 24 states east of the Mississippi River. SPI has used almost 31,000 pounds of this chemical in the state.

"Scientific work has shown that even trace amounts of common herbicides such as atrazine have deleterious ecological effects when present in streams and lakes," said Don Erman, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Davis and the Science Team Leader of the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project. "Pesticides show up in some of our most pristine watersheds, and forestry practices increasingly rely on herbicides in management after logging and fire. Individual citizens, watershed groups and others need information on what, where and when herbicides are being applied to forestlands."

SPI is already facing scrutiny from concerned citizens due to its persistent use of destructive logging practices such as clearcutting and the conversion of natural forests to tree plantations. Their heavy reliance on toxics in everyday management is yet another example of a business model that is viewed as controversial and outdated.

"For years I have witnessed the devastation caused by timber companies as they clearcut forests in Shasta County, replacing forests with sterile tree plantations and eviscerating habitat for wildlife," said Sue Lynn of Montgomery Creek, a small town 36 miles outside Redding. "The astounding quantities of herbicide being sprayed in our forests outrages me. They do not have the right to poison the land and the watersheds that provide drinking water for Californians."

The process of compiling this information required over half a year of sorting through data from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). By California law all commercial herbicide use must be reported, including the time, location and quantity of each application.

ForestEthics' "Save the Sierra" campaign is working to transform the destructive logging practices of California's largest landowner, Sierra Pacific Industries. Since 1995, SPI has clearcut or converted to plantation over a quarter of a million acres of natural forests, with plans for up to a million acres within the next fifty years. Though the Sierra is home to half of California's plants and animals and the source of 60% of our drinking water, SPI continues to ruin this natural treasure with its destructive practices.

ForestEthics, a nonprofit with staff in Canada, the United States and Chile, recognizes that individual people can be mobilized to create positive environmental change -- and so can corporations. Armed with this unique philosophy, ForestEthics has helped protect more than sixty-five million acres of Endangered Forests. Visit forestethics.org, for more information.

Will Craven
San Francisco, California, USA - December 18, 2008


A Libertarian Economic "Fix"

To the Editor:

Africa might benefit from having a United States of Africa that would have a similar constitution to the USA and maximizes Africa's mineral wealth and other wealth. The United Nations needs to put significant troops in Africa and use force in Somalia and other places. There might be fewer famines in Africa if private property and wealth creation are encouraged.

I think it makes sense for the federal government to loan money to the automobile companies. If the automobile companies do well, this may increase economic growth and per capita income in many States. The federal government should consider loaning money to many manufacturing companies that make products in our country. This may increase economic growth and per capita income as well as help us reduce the national debt which is now more than 10 trillion dollars. Our companies making products in our country may cause less air pollution, water pollution, and land pollution on our planet than companies that make products in China.

I would like an Amendment to the United States Constitution adopted that gives each State at least 3 United States Senators and allows each State Legislature to choose at least 1 United States Senator. I would like an Amendment to the United States Constitution adopted that gives State Legislatures the power to repeal federal laws, federal regulations, trade agreements, and treaties. I would like an Amendment to the United States Constitution adopted that gives State Legislatures the power to recall (fire) their Representatives to the United States House of Representatives, their United States Senators, the President, and the Vice President.

Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution says Congress has the power "To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures."

Congress should eliminate the Federal Reserve or veto many of its decisions. If the Federal Reserve continues to exist, 2 members of the United States House of Representatives and 2 United States Senators should sit on the board of the Federal Reserve. If 3 of these members of Congress wants a Federal Reserve decision to be vetoed, it should be vetoed. If the majority of the United States House of Representatives wants a decision to be vetoed, it should be vetoed. If a majority of the United States Senate wants a decision to be vetoed, it should be vetoed.

Congress should seriously consider backing our currency with gold, silver, and other commodities.

The federal government should sell a lot of the land it owns to raise capital, reduce the national debt, help fund Social Security and Medicare, help fund passenger rail, help fund buses within cities, help fund buses between cities, and do other things. Some of the money the federal government obtains from the sale of the lands should go to State governments. If you type federal government owned land on a search engine, you might be surprised at how much land the federal government owns.

Congress should seriously consider allowing casinos and hotels especially hotels for the wealthy to be built in many national parks. The federal government could obtain property taxes from these casinos and hotels, a percent of sales from these casinos and hotels, and a 5 percent rooms and meals tax from these casinos and hotels. State governments should obtain some of the money the federal government obtains from these casinos and hotels.

If Congress had learned from the Savings and Loans Crisis and regulated properly, the mortgage mess might have not taken place. Congress should require down payments on homes and fixed rate mortgages to make future mortgage messes less likely.

If the federal government is serious about creating jobs and growing the economy, it should stop taxing capital gains, interest from savings accounts, dividends, and estates. Businesses would have an easier time obtaining loans and investments for hiring workers, training workers, research and development, and plant and equipment. People would have an easier time saving for down payments on homes and fixed rate mortgages, college tuitions, and retirements.

If unions want to increase their wealth and power, they should buy the majority of stock in many small companies and startups so that they are able to make the decisions. This may be a better usage of their money than political campaigns. Unions may want to buy more stock in large companies and become active shareholders and help pick boards of directors. If unions own stock and the federal government stops taxing dividends and capital gains, unions would benefit.

The federal government and state governments should spend a lot more money on buses within cities and buses between cities. The fewer families that need to have 2nd and 3rd cars the more money they have for other things. Many businesses may want to do a lot of advertising inside of buses. People may see ads in buses longer than they see ads in magazines. If people are better able to get to jobs and from jobs, there may be less need for food stamps and Medicaid. Better bus service may increase tourism. We may use less foreign oil.

(I graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1992 with a BA Degree in Political Science and a minor in Economics. I ran for United States Senate from New Hampshire in 2002.)

Kenneth Scot Stremsky
Manchester, New Hampshire, USA - December 23, 2008


Reviewing Swans' Reviewer: Peter Byrne's Bad Dream Of The Year

To the Editor:

Wow! What a motley crew we are! Here I thought I was the one who might not know what I was talking about! Dear Peter took precious time away from his cappuccino and espresso to presume too much about me, without consulting with me first. In typical European form he assumes the worst, only to be humbled later. If he had bothered to ask, he might have learned that the reason I am in Southern California is that I still have to make a living, and this is a great place for that. Thanks a lot, Pete! If he is "unnerved" perhaps he should cut down on the caffeine! Maybe a nice bottle of California cabernet?

As for the rest, and this will be the last time I will comment without being asked, Art Shay got it right, at the end, Jan's piece was very moving for me, partly because we felt the same terror here in our dear town of Laguna not so long ago and because we recently rescued a cute pup from our local rescue center. We have always been lucky with dogs! Martin Murie was very entertaining, in an alien kind of way. I was glad to hear from Femi Akomolafe. At this point, at least some folks in Africa may still be able to forgive us! Charles Marowitz may be right, but I hope not. Gilles was right on target, as usual. Hang on tight, we're in for a rough ride! Louis Proyect is pessimistic. Pessimism is a poor substitute for solutions, not that I have many, but public works seem better than no work to me. Michael Doliner paints a dark picture. Unfortunately, he may be prescient. He and I agree that the rich elite need to reorder their priorities. Michael Barker continued his crusade against elitism, which I'm sure has merit, although I admit to being unable to take it all in. I'm pretty sure that is my problem, not his. Guido Monte was again himself, in his inscrutable, and yet beautiful way. I was honored to close the show, either because my work is considered marginal or because I summed things up. I hope it was the latter!

Now that I got all that off my chest, I want to thank the crew of its hard work and for Gilles's help. I hope we can do more damage in the New Year!

Best Regards,

R. Scott Porter
Laguna Beach, California, USA - December 16, 2008


Times Past: What's Behind The Advocate? Milo Clark's ...Dream and Addendum to...Dream (January 2001)

Dear Mr. Clark:

I just finished reading The Advocate, about which you have written. I thought it beautifully written and enjoyed it immensely, despite its depressing conclusion (depressing for me, at any rate).

It's not terribly significant, but I wonder if you could clarify something I might have missed. Toward the end of the book, when Markham and Anderson leave their positions escorting B-17s on that bombing mission, disappearing into the clouds, with the ensuing explosion, do you believe that the authors were saying that they committed suicide by flying their planes into each other, or were they shot down by the FW-190s that subsequently attacked the bombers?

Thank you.


Shel Secunda
Milo Clark answers:


I really don't know which alternative I will accept or speculate as the author's intention.

Part of what I would read into this situation or story is that the outcomes of so many events that are open to myriad interpretations may not conform to expectations. Authors tend to enjoy successfully remaining open to readers' penchants.

The surface assumption may simply be that the two pilots were finding their way out of an increasingly ambiguous actuality for them.

Disappear (from the war) and reappear assuming new identities, etc. Crash and row your boat to Sweden as once example from another novel, Catch 22.

There are stories throughout history of warriors taking similar actions or responses. Usually, as you may expect, without fanfare, announcement or tracking.

Suicide rates, as presently seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan, go up among those exposed to combat situations. Better, perhaps, to go out your way than risk combat death or injuries.

Hard to imagine from where I sit at the moment. I will note, however, that similar situations were not unknown during the Vietnam years on which I have a better perspective.

The outcomes of ambiguous wars (as selected by individual participants) especially fit these possible generalizations, viz, Iraq and what I expect will come from the upcoming Obama "surge" in Afghanistan.

History from Alexander through Genghis Khan, then the Brits and Soviets, and now Us'ns tends to show that no one has mastered the Afghan tribals more than superficially or temporarily.

To the extent that much of Iraq would still be classed as "tribal," I tend to read the outcomes there (separated, if you will, into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish perspectives plus, significantly, the areas in which they once lived together and may once again live together peaceably) as very mixed in actualities on the ground.

In other words, authors are not alone in creating opportunities for ambiguous situations into which we may insert ourselves as we will.

Thanks for your comments.


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Published December 29, 2008
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