Klahr v. The Bar

Letters from the week of July 11, 2002

Sure, there are some bars where the nonsmoking rules are observed — mostly corporate venues. However, the attitude of general disregard for this law has made its enforcement a matter of proprietor choice, which is exactly what it should have been all along.

Oh, well. I guess that the bar-going citizens of Tempe can sleep safely at night, knowing they've been saved from themselves.

Dan Berkes
Via e-mail

Power Ranger

Electrifying details:Robert Nelson's weekly column features a graphic depicting a down-and-out journalist focusing a flashlight on some freakish underworld denizen. Is this whimsy or truth in advertising? After reading his story on a potential terrorist threat to Arizona and regional power grids ("Apocalypse How?" June 20), the mystery deepens.

Nelson warns of a Soviet-style "directed-energy weapon" falling into the hands of al-Qaida. The studies describing such a device are "out there on the Internet," he tells us. These basically consist, he says, of a "suitcase-size" special transmitter wrapped "with plastic explosives," which are said to "greatly magnify" the destructive mystery rays emanating from this upon explosion. By analogy, he describes a malfunctioning naval transformer that "basically acted as a giant scrambler of all the electromagnetic waves" in the vicinity.

Admittedly, I've never been a "cog in the military/industrial complex" as Nelson's source is reputed to be. But I do know the difference between electromagnetic waves (e.g., radio frequency airborne transmissions) and electric current (wire-bound movements of electrons supplied by the power company). While it's true that intense electromagnetic pulses can damage computer chips, this phenomenon is a by-product of nuclear detonation. If terrorists have that capability, an interruption of electrical power is unlikely to be a primary concern. It is also possible to induce a current in a wire by means of electromagnetic waves, but a small "suitcase-size" transmitter would cause less of an overload than simply shorting together a pair of high-voltage transmission lines. And blowing up your transmitter isn't going to improve its performance, not even briefly. Al-Qaida operatives have as much chance of causing a "six-month" regional blackout this way as they do of poisoning the city water by pissing in the Salt River.

Even the worst overload-induced, design-flaw-exacerbated citywide and regional blackouts of the past 50 years of U.S. history were resolved (i.e., power restored to most affected areas) within 72 hours.

As for the Internet, it certainly is prolific. But what is the ratio of crap to reliable information?

Mark Adkins
Phoenix

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