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Letters to the Editors

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“Proof that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe may lie in the fact that it has not made extensive contact with us–yet!” THOMAS F. SHERER Vienna, Ohio

Your cover story on science-fiction movies, TV shows and books was excellent [SHOW BUSINESS, July 8]. Americans seem to prefer the paranormal and fantastic to the reality of hard science. But many respectable scientists believe life has evolved in other worlds. It is likely too, they say, that great alien civilizations have come and gone in the course of time (or may still thrive out there). It is not probable, however, that we have been visited–or ever will be visited–by an alien mission. Why? The distances between stars are so vast that even if warlike creatures like those depicted in the sci-fi film Independence Day exist, it is unlikely we’ll ever meet them face to face. Fear not, and sleep tight! LOUIS VARRICCHIO Middlebury, Vermont Via E-mail

You earthlings slay me with your cinematic arrogance. Independence Day, my left tentacle! Don’t think for one space second that we aliens would travel 90 million light-years to play trivial war games with you. If we wanted to subdue your puny planet, we would simply advise our agents in your movie industry to produce a series of brain-numbing pseudo-science-fiction films to speed you in the dumbing down of your young. The truth is that aside from Demi Moore, we have absolutely no interest in the people on a minor planet who insult us with grotesque representations of intergalactic life. We happen to be quite attractive if you like tentacles. JIM (“ZNORZK”) SMALL Denville, New Jersey

In his superbly entertaining article, Richard Corliss quotes Steven Spielberg as saying, “I could never make an evil, aggressive alien movie.” As a fan and admirer of Spielberg’s work, I must respectfully disagree. Schindler’s List was just such a movie. It featured “evil, aggressive” Nazi characters with ideals totally “alien” to a decent, thinking person. What Spielberg directed was far scarier than a fantasy like Independence Day simply because the events depicted actually occurred. FRED T. BEEMAN Las Vegas

You overlooked one of the most significant contributions to the science-fiction genre since Star Trek. J. Michael Straczynski’s creative series Babylon 5 takes television science fiction forward into a world that doesn’t ignore physics and economics and backward to the classic science-fiction novel. Storytelling on the scale of Babylon 5’s narrative arc, covering five years, is rare. Boisterous Babylon 5 fanatics on the Internet and at conventions won’t let the show die or be overlooked. With two years of epic storytelling left in the run, there’s plenty of time to jump on the bandwagon. MORRIS JONES Campbell, California Via E-mail Readers can visit the Babylon 5 Website at http://pathfinder.com/Babylon5

Does liking sci-fi make me a nerd or a dweeb? I’ve had a lot of company since the 1950s, when I started watching Truman Bradley’s Science Fiction Theater program on TV, with more nerds and dweebs joining me each year. Science fiction started out as something cool and cerebral for the avant-garde. Now it has become so trendy, so mainstream that individualists who pride themselves on their esoteric interests reject it. We are clogging the information superhighway. We are everywhere. Move over, and take your friends with you! Skolnick, the leader of the original nerds, reigns! BILLIE M. SPAIGHT New York City


Nineteen U.S. servicemen were killed in the bomb attack in Saudi Arabia [NATION, July 8]. How many more Americans will die to protect people who bleed us white with artificially inflated oil prices? How many more Americans will die defending people who despise us as infidels? How many more will die to defend an antidemocratic monarchy? MICHAEL FARRIS Louisville, Kentucky

You briefly touched on the causes of violence and radicalism in the Middle East, but it is important to stress that the root of the problem is the U.S. government’s shortsighted policy there. It supports dictators and repressive regimes and has a double standard in enforcing U.N. resolutions concerning Israel. The U.S.’s support for the Shah of Iran in the 1960s served to nurture the radicalism and hatred toward America that finally helped bring into power the current extreme government in Iran. America should push the Saudi regime to respect human rights and allow for full participation of the people in the government; otherwise, a repeat of the Iranian debacle is in the future. AHMED LOBAD Rochester, New York

Why are U.S. troops in the middle East? Surely there are plenty of robust, patriotic Saudi Arabians eager to defend their country’s oil. ETTA Z. SOLNICK El Paso, Texas

It is reckless for us not to have a national energy policy. We have a chronic and troublesome trade deficit, about half of which could be eliminated if the U.S. stopped importing oil. Yet Americans continue to drive down the freeway of life in a lemming-like trance, not wanting to acknowledge the precipice toward which we are headed. Lives are being lost and fiscal resources wasted in our dependence on imported oil. PAUL W. ROSENBERGER Manhattan Beach, California


Your story “three strikes are out,” on the ruling by the California supreme court concerning the state’s three-strikes sentencing law, mentioned a case that was heard in my court [CRIME, July 1]. But the amount of drugs involved was not accurately reported. Drug abuser Jesus Romero possessed only 0.13 g of cocaine, not 13 g, as you said. Why is that fact important? Well, anyone who deals in these matters knows that if a person has 13 g of cocaine, it is not for personal use but rather for sale. Romero was given a break in a shorter sentence because, among other reasons, he had a long-term drug addiction and possessed a small amount for personal use, not because drug dealers in our community deserve such consideration. WILLIAM D. MUDD, Judge Superior Court, San Diego County San Diego


I am very concerned about climate change and the spread of disease and pestilence discussed in your article “Global Fever” [ENVIRONMENT, July 8]. You said, “Episodes of extreme weather are routinely followed by outbreaks of plagues, both old and new.” What is the U.S. doing in response to these potentially dangerous developments? People need to be made aware of the danger. KATHERINE ANN WHITLATCH Lewisville, North Carolina Via E-mail

Mother nature will win, one way or another, in our lifetime or that of our descendants. We can choose to ignore nature’s power and continue to try to predict the consequences of our actions, or we can respect nature by acting in intelligent ways that do not bring about destructive consequences. RUTH HEIL Green Lane, Pennsylvania


Your article on the discovery and chemical analysis of wine dating from 5400 to 5000 B.C. by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Museum [SCIENCE, June 17] contained two errors. My first name is Patrick, not Peter, as you reported. Also, it was not the Sumerians who were responsible for this earliest occurrence of wine. The Sumerians were a literate and urban population who lived 2,000 years later in lowland southern Iraq. The winemakers, if indeed the wine was produced locally, which seems most likely, were a Neolithic people living in a village now called Hajji Firuz Tepe in upland northwest Iran. Since humans were not yet able to produce written records, we have no direct knowledge of exactly who these Neolithic wine-making people were or of how the creative breakthrough was made. PATRICK MCGOVERN Research Scientist, Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology University of Pennsylvania Museum Philadelphia


Nothing about Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, seems more irresistible to writers than the little joke that there’s a telephone in her tomb. Roger Rosenblatt repeats this myth with a flourish in his “Dig, Must We?” [ESSAY, July 8]. The only telephone connection to Eddy’s passing was the one installed for watchmen at the cemetery’s general receiving vault. It was for the use of the people who were hired to protect her coffin from desecration while a final monument was being built. There was never a phone at the grave site itself. So, to any of your readers who are tempted to make that collect call, sorry! M. VICTOR WESTBERG, Manager Committees on Publication First Church of Christ, Scientist Boston


Your article on the boom in declaring personal bankruptcy in the U.S. [BUSINESS, July 8] was right on target. Credit-card usage is truly an American plague, spreading uncontrollably throughout all parts of our economy. I feel no compassion for the credit agencies that make huge profits from monthly interest rates and fees. While it’s true that individuals should be responsible for their debts, the banks are equally guilty of irresponsible profitmaking. Gil Oviedo Glendale, California Via E-mail

You neglected to point out who ultimately pays for the people who declare personal bankruptcy. It’s poor saps like me who are under the delusion that personal responsibility and fiscal prudence still have meaning. Sooner or later the piper must be paid. J.K. BONNER Montrose, California Via E-mail

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