Backtalk

Swallow the Money

Jon Luoma’s story (“Pandora’s Pantry,” January/February) helps readers understand why Europeans have shown stronger opposition to genetically modified (GM) foods than Americans. It is not, as some media analysts have argued, that European societies have less confidence in their regulatory agencies or that Europe is still reeling from food crises like mad cow disease or dioxin-contaminated beef.

The real story behind America’s flirtation with GM food involves the corporate capture of regulation and the commercialization of science. There is no longer a clear line between academic and industry science in the United States, a demarcation that still has meaning at most European universities. American universities are poised to share in the expected windfall profits of new biotechnology products. As a result, it is hardly a surprise to find so little skepticism about the health and ecological safety of GM foods. The new genetically modified crops discussed in Luoma’s story have been marketed by industry as a salve for world hunger, good for the environment, and so safe for consumers that they literally do not need any regulation. How many people are naive enough to believe that a technique powerful enough to commingle genes from distant biological sources (bacteria and plants) cannot result in some mistakes?

The new agri-biotechnology industry rode the wave of free-market politics but rejected one of its fundamental precepts — consumer sovereignty, or the right of people to be first, last, or nonusers of new products or technologies. Let’s not forget that Americans invented junk food and artificial fat. But we also created a food labeling system to tell us what we are eating. GM foods should be part of that labeling system.

Sheldon Krimsky, Ph.D.
Department of Urban
and Environmental Policy
Tufts University
Medford, Massachusetts

Agent of Charity

I am sure I was not the only reader touched by Robert Dreyfuss’ article about the lingering effects of Agent Orange harming the Vietnamese people (“Apocalypse Still,” January/February). I would like to make a donation to the Agent Orange Victims Fund. How can that be best accomplished?

William J. Douglas
Gold River, California

Thank you very much for printing the article about the continuing effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people. The article and photos are truthful and moving.

We are organizing a campaign to help Agent Orange victims in Vietnam. Donations can be sent to the Embassy of Vietnam and we will forward them to the Agent Orange Victims Fund.

1233 20th Street, NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036
Payable to: Embassy of Vietnam — For Agent Orange Victims in Vietnam

Or contact the embassy for details on wiring donations directly to the Agent Orange Victims Fund in Hanoi.

Le Van Bang
Ambassador, Embassy of Vietnam
Washington, D.C.

Stuck on Hold

Like Ian Frazier (“Dearly Disconnected,” January/February), I’ve taken note of the connection between the rise of the cellular phone and the demise of the pay phone. Unlike Frazier, who emphasizes the loss of commonality within the context of a shared cultural experience, my own interpretation of the phenomenon occurs within the context of a growing class division.

Like most working-class families, ours cannot afford the significant cost of owning a cell phone. So I worry, and wonder where my wife will find a pay phone should she have car trouble. Across the spectrum of services that should be accessible to all, from public telephones to health care, it is increasingly true that the needs of the wealthy are fulfilled while the needs of the rest of us are ignored.

Jake Burkey
Reno, Nevada

Creating Debate

I found it surprising that Mother Jones, which apparently prides itself on being open-minded, would publish an article criticizing the Kansas Board of Education for allowing competing theories of the origins of life to be taught in public schools (The Commons, January/February). Kansas’ action merely takes Darwinism from its shrine, opens it up to criticism, and allows students to be taught alternative theories. It seems that you were too willing to join in the bashing of “religious fundamentalists” to notice that your article further silences an important debate.

The truth is that there are serious problems with the theory of evolution, along with a surprising lack of evidence, and a shocking surplus of chicanery — none of which was ever revealed to the students in any science class I ever attended in obtaining an environmental science degree. Instead, the theory of evolution was always presented as an irrefutable fact.

Why the dogmatic allegiance to evolution? Why not criticize the theory (if evolutionists will admit that it is only a theory)? Why not explore problems with the evolutionary model and discuss alternative models? Shouldn’t science, of all disciplines, advocate open-mindedness? If you want to deal with the issue, find out what scientists who aren’t marching with the evolutionists’ band are saying.

Larry Reilly
Ridgefield, Connecticut

The Kansas creation vs. evolution debacle has a curious twist — the unquestioning assumption that there is only one creation story. Which version of creation should be taught? There are dozens available.

The Egyptians offer a dark watery abyss sprouting a lotus, opening to reveal an infant god. That first deity created everything else. The Sumerians’ version starts with the sea giving birth to a male god of the sky and a female goddess of the earth. Hinduism skirts modern big-bang theory with a world egg floating on a sea of chaos, birthing the first deity.

Personally, I favor the Charles Schulz approach: “And the Great Pumpkin arose out of the pumpkin patch.”

Robert Fitzke
East Lansing, Michigan

Both Sides of the Fence

When I read “Wrong Side of the Fence” (January/February), it was hard not to feel a bit cynical. In many ways, the self-interested, overreacting, and revisionist views of the resisting Navajo are the same old same-old. Perhaps it is we Hopi who have been on the wrong side of the fence. Had we been more willing to ignore the law and the rights of others, and take matters into our own hands, we might have been rewarded by the federal government with large tracts of land.

Instead, the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona has been reduced to an island surrounded by the largest Indian tribe in the United States, the Navajo Nation. The changing boundaries of the Navajo Reservation over time tell the tale of historic Hopi land loss and the fight to protect our culture and survive as a people.

The federal government, the Navajo, and outsiders have historically construed our peaceful way of life as a sign of weakness. They think that because we are a small tribe our land, our water, and our natural resources can be easily taken. This mistaken belief strikes at the heart of Hopi survival, and we are obligated to stand up for our own survival through modern means — lawsuits in the courts and legislative battles before Congress. The Hopi have chosen to follow the law, as imperfect as it sometimes is. We have been willing to live with the results. All that we ask is that others do the same.

Eugene Kaye
Chief of Staff
The Hopi Tribe
Kykotsmovi, Arizona

Thank you for the solid introduction to the relocation law that has forced more than 1,000 Navajos from their ancestral lands. Most of the Navajo families subject to the relocation law can trace their occupancy of the land for at least 10 generations. Those Navajo families who have chosen to stay have suffered from a generation-long construction freeze, a federally imposed reduction of the livestock upon which their way of life depends, and constant psychological harassment. Those families who have chosen to move have been traumatized by the sudden transition from their family-oriented, subsistence lifestyles to strange lands where they must survive in a modern economy.

To protect the right of these families to live in peace, the Navajo Nation has repeatedly offered to exchange land with the Hopi tribe, in a ratio of up to three acres for every acre of Hopi land. These offers were never seriously entertained by the Hopis, and the United States government has continued to insist that the Navajo families must relocate. Unfortunately, after spending millions of dollars fighting the relocation law, the Navajo Nation no longer expects that it can be overturned.

We urge all parties, including the Hopi tribe and the United States, to be compassionate and understanding toward the Navajo families who have borne the brunt of the law’s awful consequences.

Kelsey A. Begaye
President
The Navajo Nation
Window Rock, Arizona