Letters for May 28, 2009

History starts now

Re “An Outsider’s View of Earth” (Feature story, May 21):

It’s easy to appreciate that Fred Branfman’s heart is in the right place, but the writer and the extraterrestrial briefing Q-and-A format were not a match. I like Branfman’s pedigree on strategic investment, but the goal is ill-served by some of Branfman’s own extraneous commentaries.

According to the briefer in Branfman’s narrative, “Only a dramatic transformation without precedent in human experience … can save the species.” OK, yes, without precedent except for the plague or drought-reactive mass migrations that have happened through all of recorded history.

Beyond that, the pedigree which was supplied with the article reveals an author probably old enough to recall that even Nixon responded to the dawning of these environmental imperatives with appropriate progress, and that even Reagan was eventually a pivotal accomplice in the strategic arms limitation treaties.

It was also an extraneous oddity that James Lovelock was listed as the inventor of the Gaia hypothesis. If Fred Branfman has never heard of Giordano Bruno, Baruch Spinoza, Lewis Thomas, or anybody else who has famously propounded such a hypothesis, he should have just said so.

In similar fashion, he offered the claim, “Nobody has yet explained how this borrowed capital will be used to build a new high-growth, high-income and job-creating economic sectors capable of restoring U.S. economic strength.” This is immediately expanded with the assertion, “Were America to have hopes of reviving its economy … it would need … to develop industries of the future.”

Actually, somebody has ALWAYS explained how this borrowed capital will restore economic strength. The development of “industries of the future” will continue to begin with the initial step of any and all restructuring of activities that moves daily activities closer to factories and farms.

Maybe Branfman is not quite as familiar with homeostasis as the extraterrestrials are; they do after all, seem to have such greater lifespans than ourselves, since one of them is surprised to learn that about 90 years from now, every one of us will be dead. And then very strangely, the volunteer in the story asks, regarding 6 billion dead humans, “Are all the experts as pessimistic?”

I’m not even currently classified as extraterrestrial, and I wouldn’t exactly presume that the prospect of 6 billion dead humans inspires pessimism. The character’s presumptiveness is shown in Branfman’s own words: “If you measure success by the number of humans now alive.” Well I don’t. I measure success by how many of them have either a brainwave, a notion, a concept or a clue.

That being said, Branfman inevitably reminds one of Ray Bradbury—probably quite good at certain things, but sci-fi is not one of them.

Flombaye Krishnabob Ellison

Kill your lawnmower

Re “Smokin’ grass” (Editorial, May 21):

I applaud your ongoing efforts to integrate ecological consciousness into our community, including your recent editorial regarding more eco-friendly ways to maintain a grass lawn. However, this short piece omits two key environmental problems with even an eco-friendly lawn and mischaracterizes the vast diversity of xeric landscaping options. First, the article fails to mention that a grass lawn—if not coupled with some diversity of shrubs, grasses, flowering plants, and trees—is a veritable ecological desert for birds and insects that live in or migrate to our community, since there is no food to eat nor cover to protect them from predators. Second, the article claims, “Grass actually reduces air pollution through filtering the air of pollen and greenhouse gases,” but fails to mention that the repeated mowing of lawns with gas-powered mowers creates more greenhouse gases than grass could possibly filter—one hour mowing a lawn produces emissions equivalent to driving a car 350 miles, according to some estimates. To address or minimize both of these issues and also aid in water retention, lawn fans might consider allowing portions of their lawns to grow wild, since the seed tips provide food for birds. In addition, there are a wide variety of xeric plants, ranging from water-thrifty grasses and perennials to flowering and fruiting shrubs and trees that are not merely a “lava-rock lawn.” There are even plush xeric groundcover plants that flower beautifully, endure traffic, retain pleasant attributes in winter, and provide comfort to those seeking a pleasant surface to hang out on.

Katrina Mann

Somber anniversary

It has been 15 years since 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were executed by Bosnian Serb Forces in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Hercegovina. These killings are considered the worst atrocities in Europe since the days of World War II and continue to cause pain and suffering to the region as family members are notified that their husbands and sons remains have been discovered among the more than 450 major mass graves across Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The Srebrenica murders happened in remote eastern Bosnia-Hercegovina near the border with Serbia (Yugoslavia) during the final months of the war in the former Yugoslavia in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Srebrenica had been declared a United Nations Safe Area but was the target of thousands of artillery and tank shells and had been suffering from nearly four years of sparse supplies of food and medicine. A United Nations military unit from the Netherlands was stationed in the surrounded enclave home to thousands of Bosnians who were trapped and under attack. In late July 1995, as the Serb Army overran and captured the surviving residents of Srebrenica, the Dutch United Nations detachment handed over the thousands of Bosnian shell-socked and war-weary citizens of the disputed territory who were quickly sent to various points in buses in and near Srebrenica. Nearly all 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were tortured, beaten, threatened and then executed.

Two of the main perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacres are former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadic, who currently waits in a United Nations jail in the Hague, Netherlands for his trial on numerous counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide relating to his personal and legal responsibility in these killings. Ratko Mladic, a former general in the Bosnian Serb Army, has also been indicted with Radovan Karadic for the Srebrenica murders but remains at large and free.

The European Community has made Serbia’s cooperation on war crimes, including Ratko Mladic’s arrest and delivery to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal For The Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a mandatory action in order for the Brussels-based European Community to look favorably on Serbia’s bid for EU membership, which will bring economic and other advantages to the troubled East European nation, which sponsored ethnic-based killing and genocide in neighboring Balkan states of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kevin Beck
Las Vegas

Numbers lie

Re “Flu the coop” (Editor’s note, May 7):

Perhaps those people who died of the swine flu in Mexico are only a small fraction of the number who actually contracted it. If you just test a few people because they are very ill, you get a false picture of the death rate from the disease. The “normal flu” kills thousands every year here in the United States, but they represent a very small fraction of the number of people are tested for it and an even smaller fraction of all those who contract it.

Doc McIntire