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Letters: Sep. 27, 1999

9 minute read


Your article seems to make “risk takers” the modern equivalent of Greek heroes [ADVENTURE, Sept. 6]. But such enthusiasm is an assault on the legions of young Americans striving to build a family and career based on something deeper and more enduring than a dopamine surge of pleasure. The risk takers represent a fringe of our society, and while interesting to a point, they are hardly the leaders of a movement. SEAN P. MAZER New York City

Taking risks focuses the mind. Such activities are bracing, to say the least, whether you are a BASE jumper, a surgeon performing a quadruple-bypass operation or an actor executing a sword fight onstage while spouting Shakespeare. Most of us don’t have work that is this invigorating. Engaging in risky activities makes us feel alive. It also satisfies a curiosity about our abilities–and how we handle challenges. It can utterly focus your mind. There’s nothing like it. TIM MOFFET Vail, Colo.

Extreme sports are mostly solo pursuits that fail to teach the valuable lessons of traditional sports–teamwork, cooperation, good sportsmanship and collegiality. Is this social progress? AMY HOPKINS Guilford, Conn.

A man doesn’t know his limits unless he exceeds them. Risk taking separates the men from the boys. JAMES T. ARBUCKLE Brookfield, Conn.

Your report included the views of a gay man who was a proponent of barebacking (having unprotected sex with multiple partners). For him, the rush of such sex outweighs the risk of becoming HIV positive–especially because AIDS, in his eyes, is turning from a fatal disease into a chronic illness. Lucky for this guy that he is not in South Africa, where there are scant funds to treat HIV patients or pay for anti-AIDS drugs. Here his risk taking would leave him dead. Not every country is able to spend millions of dollars for AIDS drugs so that a generation of spoiled kids can play games with death. LAURA MARCUS Nylstroom, South Africa

Although engaging in endeavors of risk may certainly be thrilling for the individual, the dangerous consequences (especially of risky sexual behavior) affect the lives of not only the risk takers but also the families, partners and friends. An underlying sense of selfishness and greed pervades many forms of risk that know no limits. CHARLES LAUTH New York City

It is somewhat unsettling to see that thrill seeking to the point of looking death in the eye is replacing more valuable pursuits–responsibility for others, respect, tolerance and religion. WERNER RADTKE Paderborn, Germany

Lewis and Clark, Einstein, Galileo, Edison and test pilots are risk takers, as are BASE jumpers and other devotees of extreme sports. But there is a crucial difference. Society gets no benefit from the latter group, who are solely concerned with selfish gratification. GILBERT STORK Englewood, N.J.

People who indulge in extreme sports are nuts. I played football and then rugby for years. It wasn’t the risk that enthralled me. It was that sense of belonging, of being part of a team. Prove how tough I am by jumping off a bridge? Forget it. PETER HILLYER North Topsail Beach, N.C.

This new trend of facing danger has one main cause: boredom. There is a big difference between the risks taken by a doctor performing neurosurgery and by a person BASE jumping. The base jumper does it because he or she likes it. The doctor must sometimes take risks when there is no other option. ERWIN CIJNTJE Curacao

I took your quiz to see if I qualify as a risk taker. I scored very low, indicating that I’m not. But I am 89, a D-day vet and have spent plenty of time on the edge–never for thrills. I did it only because it had to be done. One thing I know: a low scorer lives longer! When I go, I hope to just turn off the lights and close the door. JOSH (“JUNO”) HONAN Kilrush, Ireland

In today’s world, millions of people live in fear every single day of their lives. But there are others, the few who are so bored by their secure, middle-class existence that they jump off bridges or climb dangerous rocks to flirt with death. Why not channel that urge for risk into something meaningful? Why not go to Angola as a humanitarian worker? CORNELIA LOBNER Schleswig, Germany

The comparison of risks between extreme sports and professions is not an apt one. Dangerous sports are for one’s personal thrill or pleasure; risky professions can serve the good of society. IMOGENE LIM Nanaimo, B.C.


Animals can neither ponder nor reflect, philosophize nor rationalize [NATURE, Sept. 6]. “I think, therefore I am” does not apply to animals. They have no sense of culture, religion, art or self. They lack goals, hopes, ideals, laws and ambitions, all of which are the result of a species’ having the ability to think, even at its most basic levels. Any “thought” animals exhibit is simply a form of modified behavior and instinct. No, animals cannot think. How dare anyone even bring up the question? APRIL PEDERSEN Reno, Nev.

Not only has my dachshund demonstrated the ability to think and reason, she has even trained me. When injury prevented her from walking, she devised specific cries and growl tones to indicate thirst, hunger and the need to go out. She would patiently repeat her requests until I got it right. She also exhibits guile in an attempt to get extra food in a manner more sophisticated than begging. The complexity of animal thought is daunting to me. I should become a vegetarian, but my dog would probably disapprove if she received no meat treats. NANCY ANDERSON Salinas, Calif.

Can animals think? My cat thinks she runs my life, and at times I believe she’s right. Any animal that can remain independent while relying on humans to run to the store every week for tuna and litter definitely has something going on in its little head! MITCH KATZ Arlington, Va.

I have always believed that animals can think, reason, remember, plan and anticipate–to varying degrees, depending on the species and the individual. Nature is replete with examples of animal behavior that require a great stretch of credulity to explain as instinct or mimicry. The most interesting question is not Do animals think? but What do they think of us humans? We probably won’t like the answer. OLIVIA BASSETT La Jolla, Calif.


The FBI is getting burned for its handling of the 1993 showdown in Waco with followers of David Koresh [NATION, Sept. 6]. If the FBI has lied repeatedly about what happened in Waco, can it be trusted to tell the truth when it testifies against members of the Waco cult? Juries are expected to assume the honesty of the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies. The repeated lies of the FBI in Waco have made its credibility go up in smoke. ROBERT NEMOYER Bridgeview, Ill.

Memo to Waco conspiracy theorists: get over it! The guilt for all that occurred at Waco rests squarely on the heads of Koresh and his followers. Had they surrendered to authorities and fought the charges against them in the courts, we would not still be dealing with this nonsense. The Branch Davidians caused the fires, they caused the death of their children, and they must accept the consequences of their actions. SCOTT ZONA Miami

So, the FBI finally admits–six years after the fact–that it did launch pyrotechnic military tear-gas rounds into the Branch Davidian compound. However, as government caveats go, the devices did not cause any kind of fire or explosion within the besieged domicile. This is like crew members of the Enola Gay saying that although they did drop a certain atomic device over Hiroshima in 1945, the inevitable explosion was not a result of anything they did. Rather, the Japanese somehow nuked themselves. ROBERT GLENN Edmonds, Wash.


Having followed the mayoral race in Baltimore, Md., from afar, I agree that the crowded field of eccentric candidates seems ripe for parody [POLITICAL SCENE, Sept. 6]. However, to hear TIME tell it, the city is so mired in its problems that there is no hope for change. Certainly, urban flight, racial divides and economic struggles are crucial issues that Baltimore faces, but to portray the city as a wasteland populated only by drug lords and underqualified would-be mayors does a disservice to all those who are committed to working for a better future. Growing up in Baltimore and witnessing the complex issues there inspired me to work for social change in troubled urban areas–not to throw up my hands and give up. I hope that next time you produce a piece that is more than a one-sided satire. CORINNE FUNK New York City

In your report you referred to my candidacy for mayor and my statement that international travel has given me the background to govern the city. You asked, “Wonder where, exactly, she has been?” As the next mayor of Baltimore, I would have appreciated an in-depth interview with your reporter in order to answer that question.

My international travel includes many cities in Africa, India, Italy and Switzerland and a private audience with the Pope in Rome. TIME, I invite your reporter back to the campaign trail to discuss the solutions to the challenges Baltimore will be facing in the next millennium. The citizens of Baltimore deserve more information than you provided in your article. (THE REV.) JESSICA DAVIS Baltimore

I live in Baltimore, where you can buy a three-story town house for $100,000 or a mansion on half an acre for $300,000. I’m a 15-minute drive from the symphony, the opera, three art museums, a dozen colleges and two new stadiums. Manhattanites and TIME staff members, come on down where life is good! JOHN MACLAY Baltimore


Architect Christian De Portzamparc’s innovative 23-story building in Manhattan with a faceted, overlapping glass facade [FALL PREVIEW, Sept. 6] is indeed striking, but perhaps he has unknowingly taken a leaf from Apple Computer’s book. With a Bondi Blue color typical of the iMac and a translucent exterior, can this building be mistaken as anything but an iRise? Perhaps later we’ll see versions in lime, blueberry, tangerine, grape and strawberry? DENNIS WINDRIM Edmonton, Alta.

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