Backtalk

Exquisite Corpses

I’m still nursing a lump in my throat after finishing Julia Whitty’s extraordinary story “Gone,” about extinction. Provocative and exquisitely composed, it’s the finest writing I’ve come across since I don’t know when. I just returned from Cambodia, where I went out of my way to see the Sarus cranes but neglected Orcaella brevirostris, the local species of river dolphin. Now I feel I should turn around and go right back, since they may also be running out of time.
By the way, the point Whitty makes about the eco-impact of the dastardly border fence adds to the outrage one feels about that particular form of idiocy. As Frost put it: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense.” Thank you for expanding my understanding of the “whom” in those words of caution.

robert liner
San Francisco, California

As Whitty’s wide-ranging article on the sixth great extinction points out, there are many factors threatening biodiversity on Earth. Global warming is not currently the largest factor in species extinctions, but that is changing as climate change—in the long term and on a global scale—continues to exacerbate existing threats to plants and wildlife and to add significant new perils as well.
While the article highlights our tremendous lack of knowledge of the species with which we share this planet, that only clarifies our responsibility to do everything we can to protect life on earth from the threats we now know about, with the goal that populations will be strong enough to withstand the impacts yet to come.

brian nowicki
Center for Biological Diversity
Tucson, Arizona

The Shadow Shoots Back

In “Riding Shotgun With Our Shadow Army in Iraq,” Nir Rosen nicely highlights the critical importance of contractors and that the majority of such companies are overwhelmingly staffed by Iraqis—a fact missed by too many of the “drive-by journalists” who cover our industry.
While these companies are important in supporting Western stability operations, they are even more critical in Westernless peace operations—those incredibly difficult humanitarian security missions that the West has essentially abandoned, leaving them to militaries from the poorest, least developed nations on earth. U.N. bases in the Congo and African Union bases in Darfur are all supported—indeed made possible—by private-sector companies.
A recent poll conducted by my trade group, the International Peace Operations Association, revealed the startling fact that in terms of personnel participating in international peace operations, the ipoa would rank ninth in the world, ahead of South Africa, the United States, and Great Britain.

doug brooks
Washington, D.C.

Deadly Denial

It’s shocking to read Randall Patterson’s “Not in Their Back Yard,” about asbestos exposure in El Dorado Hills, California, because it is so eerily similar to Libby, Montana, where the primary reaction from most of the local leaders was to criticize the Environmental Protection Agency, downplay the science as “murky” or “gray,” and berate any citizen who dared to raise a question about the level of danger.
As the documentary I directed (Libby, Montana, to be aired on pbs‘s pov this August) shows, more than 200 people have died in Libby, and hundreds more have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. But the greater tragedy is that many of these women, men, and children could have been spared exposure to asbestos had the first warnings been heeded. If you are told that you are being reactionary or fear-mongering, do it anyway. Your health and your children’s health is at stake.

drury carr
Missoula, Montana

Smoked

I have long refused to subscribe to publications that profit from the tobacco industry. Needless to say, I was appalled at your ad for American Spirit cigarettes. Not only does it promote a product inherently destructive to the health of its users and those around them, it endorses an industry that pollutes our democratic system, promotes pseudoscience while working to stifle real science, and has opposed virtually every progressive health care initiative in our nation’s history.

ken luebbering
Tebbetts, Missouri

I was disturbed by the full-page cigarette advertisement that appeared inside the back cover. Surely Mother Jones can find a way to generate sufficient ad revenue without contributing to the promotion of a highly addictive and ultimately lethal product. What makes this particular cigarette ad so insidious is its colorful adornment with sunflowers, windmills, and the words “nature” and “natural,” which give the impression of an organic health food product.

jesse rissman
San Francisco, California