Bustin' Asteroids
The article by Tony Ortega ("Eclipsed," February 25) has a devious distortion of an interview.
Our LINEAR colleagues have been reporting on their detectors for the U.S. Air Force for more than a decade, freely and in detail. I told Ortega this, and I told him all of the following. Whenever I heard a presentation by Grant Stokes and his colleagues at a conference, I made it a point to encourage them to prove their detectors by finding asteroids near the Earth. They are doing that now, and I think it is great. Their advance and great success have helped us to obtain better detectors for Spacewatch, too.

Tom Gehrels

As someone deeply involved in the science of the impact hazard, I want to say a couple of things about your story about Tom Gehrels, LINEAR, etc. First, it was fun to read and was basically accurate.

There is one important area, however, that it misrepresents, through a combination of some simple and common mistakes and possibly because of some hype on the part of people you interviewed.

You say that a one-kilometer-size asteroid is large enough to cause a "mass extinction." This, of course, is not true. The well-documented mass extinction 65 million years ago was because of an asteroid (or comet) roughly 10 times as big (or 1,000 times more mass, hence, 1,000 times the energy).

It is generally accepted that a global environmental disaster might be caused by the impact of a mile-wide (1.5-kilometer) asteroid or larger--one that might threaten worldwide agriculture and possibly destabilize civilization, resulting perhaps in a billion deaths. Gehrels exaggerates a bit, I believe, in reducing this "threshold size" asteroid to just a kilometer. But you make a mistake in the implicit assumption that such a global environmental disaster would kill everyone on Earth, which is what you do when you assume that an individual will necessarily die if such an impact happens and compare it with the risk of death in more common accidents.

David Morrison (of NASA Ames) and I have estimated that a quarter (not all) of the world's population might die in an impact by an asteroid larger than 1.5 kilometers. That turns out to imply a chance of dying by impact of about 1 in 20,000, which is approximately the risk of dying in an airplane crash.

Another mistake you make is in assigning the probability of dying in an automobile crash at 1 in 5,000. It is actually much greater for the average American, about 1 in 100. By associating the impact hazard and automobile hazards, you make the impact hazard seem much greater than it really is.

And it takes a fantastically larger (and much more unlikely) impact to actually cause a "mass extinction," which is the total and permanent wipeout of many species of plant and animal life.

These enormous consequences and minuscule probabilities are difficult for people to understand, and you are hardly alone in getting a bit mixed up about the numbers. However, if society is to make some rational decisions about how seriously to take this threat from the skies, it is important not to make mistakes of a factor of 50 (in the automobile death rate) or 1,000 (in the case of the difference between a civilization-threatening impact and a mass-extinction event).

Clark R. Chapman
Southwest Research Institute
Boulder, Colorado

I laud Tony Ortega's recent article regarding the search for asteroids potentially threatening Earth. The article was well-researched and well-put-together. This type of in-depth journalism is what New Times does best. To do it on subjects related to the natural world in addition to your usual grist of politics, dirty corporations and the arts is refreshing and greatly appreciated. Thanks for the great effort. I look forward to more.

John Gunn

In your apparent quest to alarm the public, you have suggested that the likelihood of a person being killed by an asteroid is similar to the likelihood of a person being killed in an auto accident. However, the reality is that you compared the odds of a person being killed at any time during his 66-year life span by an asteroid with the odds of a person being killed in an auto accident during one particular year. A person is 66 times as likely to die in an auto accident as he is to die by virtue of a killer asteroid striking the Earth. Rather less frightening than your claim.

Dana Weick
via Internet

The story of Brian Skiff and the asteroid hunters was very good! Kudos to a story well done!

Tracy Wilson
Atlanta, Georgia

I'm puzzled about the purpose of the asteroid story by Tony Ortega as well as not much impressed by the quality of his writing.

Is the purpose to suggest there is some sinister plot by sneaky folks in New Mexico to undermine the work of upstanding Arizona residents? That argument is similar to moaning about computers and word-processing software replacing typewriters. Some still have not adjusted to the perceived great injustices inflicted by technological advances. I don't see any difference between typewriters being replaced and a more efficient way of finding asteroids coming into use. But for some reason, New Times thought that old saw was worth a cover story. Did I miss something? Was there some other purpose in the story?

A better angle might have been to observe the Arizona guys were not finding all the possible threatening asteroids but the new New Mexico equipment will detect them quickly and will find ones that would have been missed by the antiquated equipment used by the Arizona team.

Poor quality writing is obvious when Tony tried to juice up his story by implying he got some inside scoop on this operation. I seriously doubt that is true. For instance, in the first part of the article, Tony is hinting there is great secrecy surrounding this technology, but on page 30 he tells of Stokes peddling this concept at open astronomical conferences two years ago. Something doesn't wash here.

Tony does get a big atta-boy for demonstrating an understanding of some complex technical issues. Many reporters would have messed that up badly.

In my opinion, this is a poorly written story because it implies and suggests far more than there is to the situation. It looks like cub reporting. Cub reporting is okay, but don't make it the cover story.

Darrell Call

Tony Ortega responds: I did not distort my interview with Tom Gehrels. Gehrels, in fact, said nothing at all about LINEAR--and certainly not about having known about the project for more than a decade--when I interviewed him on Kitt Peak. I have tape recordings and extensive notes of this interview. Checking them again confirms that Gehrels said nothing about his New Mexico competitors, despite what he says now. Later, after I became aware of LINEAR through other sources, I asked Gehrels to comment on LINEAR's amazing conquest of the asteroid detection field. Gehrels said only, in an e-mail message, that he thought their contribution was welcome. That's it.

As Chapman and Weick note, I did mistakenly cite the odds of being killed in a car crash. It turns out that if Tom Gehrels is correct and one's chances of being killed by an asteroid are 1 in 5,000, that is equivalent to one's being killed in a car accident in a given year. Still fairly chilling, I think.

As for Call's criticisms, the article had a revelatory tone because I was, in fact, the first print reporter that LINEAR allowed to see its facility. While a few astronomers in asteroid circles have known about LINEAR for some time, the program is still relatively unknown, even in astronomical circles.

Legislate This
I just finished reading "Daft Drafts" (Wonk, Amy Silverman, March 4). I must say that I would be much more willing to support our teenage legislators than those which my tax dollars help support. As for the bills that Representative Debra Brimhall sponsors, she needs to exercise better judgment and sponsor those with real substance and value to the people of the communities she represents and affects with her actions.

Andy Medina
via Internet

Hallucinogen X
Regarding "A Vision Gone Bust" (Terry Greene Sterling, February 18): As a baby boomer whose best years of her life were spent protesting the Vietnam War and hanging around a commune, I found Sterling's piece on Leo Mercado thoroughly fascinating. Let's face it, Leo is hardly a threat to society. Simply put, he's a guy who likes to get high, and he's dedicated himself to finding a legal way to do so. If senior research botanist Edward Anderson is correct in his assessment about peyote not being addictive and 1,000 times less potent than LSD, then the authorities should leave Leo and his pretty gardens alone. Potheads have been around for decades; they're hippie mellow, goofy and nonviolent. Leo's a pothead/peyotehead . . . big deal.

Leo Mercado's problem doesn't revolve around pot, peyote, Ecstacy or white powdery substances. Leo's real problem involves how his bad choices and actions have negatively affected other people. His divorce from his first wife left three innocent children in its wake. Later he was able to convince a gifted and intelligent teenage girl to turn her back on a scholarship and college education to subsequently marry him. Currently, he is thousands of dollars behind in child-support payments. Leo Mercado is harmless, but he's a very irresponsible person.

Thank you, Terry Greene Sterling and New Times, for sharing this interesting story with us. It sure beats reading about Jerry Colangelo all the time. Perhaps Leo Mercado will someday experience the pleasure of being able to go through life without smoke, drugs or alcohol. In the meantime, I hope that Terry Greene Sterling will continue to discover people like Leo to write about.

Coni Cabot

I feel that Leo Mercado should not bother the sacred plant, which Native Americans are only allowed to use for religious ceremony. If Leo only knew how to use the plant with respect, things will come to him with good deeds. I strongly suggest that he would stop abusing the plant and not make fools out of us, like some kind of cult movement. I am a member of the Native American Church and live at Black Mesa. Please do not abuse the mother peyote. Leo needs to get straightened out.

Name withheld by request

I appreciate your interest in our native religion, but the non-Indians that you spoke with are full of it. They are turning my religion into a weekend drug for old hippies. If some native taught them that, they have no respect.

Name withheld by request

I've known Leo Mercado very well for more than 15 years, and, as an attorney and friend of Deana, Raven, Leo and their four children, I am well aware of the matters you wrote about. You were correct to pose the ultimate question in terms of whether the medicine calls him to this fight, but to go with your cover story and very clever title, I think you missed some of the more important constitutional rights that weave in and out of his story, rights as important as the one that lets you tell his story to the world with your own sarcastic slant.

Go back to the basis for the search warrant used for that October 1995 full-scale paramilitary-style SWAT-team raid on the personal residence of this peace-loving man. Look very closely at what the judge was told to get that search warrant, and who did the talking. Find out if the "confidential informant," the single witness for that warrant, was anything other than his 12-year-old daughter, an innocent, naive girl from this small mining town who twice was taken out of her school class to be interrogated at length by a DARE officer and two narcotics officers from the sheriff's office without the permission, presence or knowledge of either of her parents, or the presence of any school officials, all in direct violation of school policy and the constitutional rights of this young girl and her parents. Ask yourself if someone who is too young to serve as a legitimate witness in a courtroom should serve as a legitimate "confidential informant," and whether a search warrant should even be issued unless this is brought to the attention of the judge.

Now stop and ask yourself how this prosecutor can honestly say that the latest seizure of Leo's medicine was because some of the many armed officers who were sent to again arrest this peaceful man on an outstanding child-support issue (they could have called him by phone and he would have gone to the station) just happened to look in his window and notice some suspicious-looking plants. Get real. Not only is the presence of peyote in and around Leo's home something that is broad-scope local knowledge with a multitude of diverse press coverage on the matter over 10 years, it is also a matter of public record in two previous criminal cases and one civil case in that county, one of them handled personally by County Attorney Carter Olson himself. Go back and look again at the basis for that seizure, and tell me how you spell s-h-a-m. Now take a look at the Fourth Amendment, and stop to think what it is meant to do.

As for the 1995, 1996 and 1999 seizures of Leo's peyote, all three, find out if Leo and Raven did not immediately offer a multitude of evidence of their religious beliefs and peyote use to law enforcement, and if they, in turn, did or did not call the question in to their superiors. As you think about those superiors getting the call, ask yourself how the state should decide what is religion and what is not, especially when the Constitution is supposed to be religion-blind, and not try to establish or favor one religion, or interfere with your free exercise of another.

Leo could get around this whole issue by simply calling upon the naturally heavy concentration of Indian blood in his Mexican heritage. But he doesn't. He stands and fights this issue because he is saying that the medicine simply cannot be limited to one race. He fights for me and you.

I hope you will look again at the importance of the constitutional right which lets you tell us Leo's story, and at the many constitutional rights and rites at issue therein.

Noel J. Hebets
Cave Creek

Cannibal Lecture
The insensitivity of New Times' headline ("Indian Stew," Michael Kiefer, February 4) is matched only by my friend Christy Turner's disgusting display of "prehistoric artifacts--with modern odds and ends." Human remains positioned with Maxwell House coffee, Campbell's chicken noodle soup, and his cup with plastic dinnerware has no place in an anthropological setting. Human remains are not artifacts, and to place them in this context is not a question of political correctness but common sense. It raises questions of Professor Turner's motivation. Is he interested in seeking a scientific understanding of this issue or shocking the public?

George J. Armelagos, professor
Department of Anthropology
Emory University
Atlanta, Georgia

Some rhetorical questions regarding Michael Kiefer's article on Anasazi cannibalism. Is "political correctness" a racist ploy designed to legitimize the trivializing of important societal issues? Is "official" science at Arizona State University influenced by the Mormon church? Is archaeology grave robbing? Is archaeology based on plundered sites believable? Considering the racist teachings of the Mormon church, would the portrayal of the Anasazi and Hopi as "godless" cannibals not fit into their worldwide program of Mormon superiority? Are modern Homo sapiens so disconnected from the natural world because of technology and the loss of spirituality and tribalism that we can never know the secrets, good or bad, of the "ancient ones"? Will institutionalized violence and racism ever end in America?

David C. Brainerd

Bum Investment
We should probably be happy to see New Times write positively about something for a change, but why does it have to be so one-sided and foolish? John Dougherty ("If You Spend It, Will They Come?" February 18) gushes that Bank One Ballpark is generating "in the $1 million a year range" in revenue for the taxpayers, but he doesn't understand how lame that is for a $238 million investment in tax dollars. Even a measly 2 percent passbook savings interest rate would return $4.7 million in a year; and if that $238 million had been invested in the S&P 500 last year, it would have returned about $60 million. The ballpark returned to the taxpayers in a year just one-sixtieth of what the stock market could return in one year. The other fifty-nine-sixtieths went to rich businessmen.

Ed Budkist

In his response to Bill Reedy's letter concerning the fate of Hungarian Jews in World War II ("Hungary Pains," February 25), M. V. Moorhead makes the following comment: "If, however, what you're hinting at is the usual revolting fantasy that the Holocaust is some sort of fabrication, then we (and by 'we' I mean 'sane people') have a different idea about what constitutes a reputable scholar."

I suppose the key word here is "reputable." The people who are responsible for turning this hoax into a veritable world religion also have the power to destroy the reputations of those who manifest the audacity to question them. Scholars around the world have been viciously attacked for daring to inquire into the truth on this question. Perhaps the best known of these is the British historian David Irving, who has written a number of highly regarded historical works pertaining to the World War II period. Since he expressed his skepticism concerning the "Holocaust," however, his latest work has been dropped by his publishers, who made it clear that they did not wish to be associated with such heresy. He was expelled from Canada (in handcuffs, if I recall correctly) because of his beliefs on this question and the indignation which it aroused in certain powerful circles. It would seem that the former victims of the inquisition have now become the inquisitors. Revisionist historians have, for years, offered to debate this issue. "Holocaust" promoters, on the other hand, have persistently refused to enter into such a debate on the pretext that to do so "would give revisionists a legitimacy they do not deserve." The plain truth of the matter is that they know the facts support the claims of the revisionists and they are not willing, and not able, to defend their arguments against serious, honest scholarship. It is a lot easier, and a lot safer, to impute insanity to an adversary than to subject oneself to the defeat that would inevitably result from any honest debate of this issue.

In his book The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, professor Arthur R. Butz of Northwestern University concludes his chapter on the Hungarian Jews with the question, "Can anybody believe such a story?" And you are left feeling a bit sheepish that you once did.

Jack Martin

M. V. Moorhead responds: While I'm not a historical scholar, it does indeed seem "safer and easier to impute insanity"--or maybe just willful wrongheadedness and bigotry--to those who would deny the veracity of a widespread historical event still in living memory, corroborated by eyewitness testimony from thousands upon thousands of people in dozens of languages, nationalities and faiths, from all sides of the conflict, including that of the perpetrators. It also seems a lot more probable. Sorry, I've been left feeling a bit sheepish that I "once did" many times in my life, but this isn't one of those times.

Immigrant Song
I'm responding to Mary Curfman's hate-filled letter ("Race Cards," February 18) about the Nguyen family, a letter that demonstrates, much more clearly than Paul Rubin's relatively objective article ("Pride and Prejudice," February 4), the flaming bias that can make life unbearable for anyone in its path. Ms. Curfman's fear and nastiness are aimed at, in turn, the U.S. government, Mrs. Nguyen's past experiences, the entire family's command of English, and Loi Nguyen's decision to take his own life. She does not appear particularly knowledgeable about most of the areas she addressed.

The Social Security issue is beyond my area of expertise as well, but I imagine that our government would not make provisions to bring a family to the U.S. without providing minimal assistance for its older and disabled members. Doesn't really sound like a "loophole" to me.

Ms. Curfman has absolutely no evidence that Mrs. Nguyen, during the Vietnam War, "spread her legs" for an American soldier when her son was conceived. For instance, Mrs. Nguyen may have been raped; members of the armed forces have been known to do that. (In any case, that was a horribly disrespectful comment.) Both sex partners are responsible for a resulting child, and the Amerasian Homecoming Act lets the United States take responsibility for the behavior of our troops overseas.

Rubin's article indicates that all the Nguyen children have made significant progress in learning English. It's likely that their parents may not have learned much English yet simply because they don't go to school all day, as the children do. This situation is mirrored in many immigrant families from many countries. With older, bilingual children to assist parents in daily activities, learning a second language has not become urgent, and the language barrier hampers awareness of assistance that might be available, assistance that some cultures also frown on asking for.

Finally, although it may be unfair to blame anyone in particular for Loi Nguyen's suicide, it is cruel and ridiculous to say that he himself was to blame or that one needn't feel sorry for him. When a person is "far down" enough, it doesn't matter who there may be to talk to. Several studies of suicide indicate that by the time it makes sense to kill yourself, it's almost impossible to see anything else clearly. It's narrow-minded to see suicides as stupid or proud or self-centered people. Generally, they are anything but.

I extend my sympathies to the Nguyens for their loss. I am also very sorry that people with so much ignorance and cruelty in them feel the need to share it with everyone.

Name withheld by request

The letter from Brandy King (February 18) even further emphasizes my point. We are all totally ignorant people and we need a wake-up call. Brandy says that we allowed the Vietnamese here and that they should learn our "system." What system is she talking about? Is it the one where all the white people get all of the money in the world and oppress the minorities? The one where the white people come to a new land and steal it from the people who had been living on it for thousands of years? Brandy, this country isn't yours to give. You, too, were given a chance to live in this country. Treat it as a privilege, because that's exactly what it is.

Mark McLane
via Internet

How sad that those little racist punks at Thunderbird were allowed to go about hassling minorities in an unchecked manner. Their parents should be ashamed.

Kevin Woodbridge
via Internet

Lend Me Your Earp
A couple of points on Tony Ortega's "I Varied Wyatt Earp" (March 4). He says Celia Blaylock committed suicide. In fact, there is no evidence she took her life intentionally. No witness at the inquest said that. At least one witness said she told him that Wyatt Earp had ruined her life. She was a laudanum addict and took it quite frequently. Like many addicts, she probably overdosed. It happens. If Ortega had said there are historians who believe Celia Blaylock committed suicide, that would have been accurate. As an amateur historian, I believe that is possible, but don't know it for a fact.

Secondly, Mr. Ortega said Wyatt Earp took up with Sadie (Josephine Sarah Marcus) after leaving Blaylock. There is strong evidence to show that Earp took up with Sadie before leaving Blaylock or Tombstone. Frank Waters in The Earp Brothers of Tombstone gives plenty of evidence for it. I suspect the Cason manuscript ignores this because it was Josie's memoirs and even Josie's nieces admitted Josie was secretive about the Tombstone years and that she was "hiding" something.

I have known for years that I Married Wyatt Earp was a fictional account. Anyone who reads Glenn Boyer's material knows from the outset that he is pro-Earp and should read his material in that light. To do otherwise would be to ignore the conservative credo: Let the buyer beware. That does not detract from the information one learns from Boyer's material. I admit here that I am pro-Boyer. I have spoken to him via the Internet, but did not become acquainted with him until last year. I still have not talked with him via telephone or in person. That aside, let me also say there are ideas about Earp put forth by Mr. Boyer with which I strongly disagree. But anyone who says, after years of reading his material, "he tricked me," I can only say, you allowed yourself to be tricked.

Ellis Badon
Covington, Louisiana

Swing Low
Regarding the article "Moral Sex" (David Holthouse and Paul Rubin, December 31), I'm an average citizen with a family, a full-time career and a home-based business. In my neighborhood, there are two strip clubs, one adult book store, one swinger's club and two churches. Very rarely do I see police activity at any of the adult locales, but one of the churches has been broken into twice already this year. My neighbors repeatedly send each other to jail or the hospital, and they do not visit the adult clubs; however, they do attend church. I'm not trying to put down churches. I come from a religious background.

The point is, crime happens! We all have the same chances at becoming the next victim, no matter the religion, race, social class level or even a person's choice of entertainment.

We have fundamental rights that cannot be taken away, no matter how hard anyone tries. Not only are those rights constitutional, but we also have the right to be human as given by God. Both God and the Constitution gave us rights and freedom to choose our own path. Neither states we have to be identical to everyone else.

If you don't like nudity, stay out of those places and shower with your clothes on. If you don't like religion, you can always walk away and they can still pray for you. If you don't like politics . . . well, my newspaper made rather good kindling in the fireplace that passionate Valentine's night. Pop the cork and enjoy life!

John A. Wright
via Internet


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