BACKTALK

SPOUTING OFF
Richard Blow's clear-eyed portrayal of the Makah's bid to bring back whale hunting in the U.S. ("The Great American Whale Hunt," September/October) is perhaps the best piece of reporting on this issue to appear in the national media. It feels strange, therefore, to remind Mother Jones that environmental activism does not happen in a vacuum.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) discovered the Makah's intent to go whale hunting three years ago and has ceaselessly publicized it, applying pressure that resulted in the U.S. withdrawing its support for the Makah before the International Whaling Commission in 1996.

This fight was organized and sustained at the grassroots. Concerned citizens stood up and said, "You will not do this thing." Without this activism, the "cultural whale hunt" concept would have quietly spread to the Canadian tribes and beyond. Why? Because the mainstream environmental groups have maintained a posture of silent acquiescence.

With less than 3 percent of Greenpeace's budget, SSCS still finds the resources to actively oppose a wrong. When people give us money, that's what we do with it. Greenpeace buys more direct-mail consultants.

PAUL WATSON
President, SSCS
Venice, Calif.

As an organization that has led the struggle to protect whales globally for more than two decades, Greenpeace appreciates Mother Jones' interest in the Makah's proposal to resume subsistence hunting. However, I must correct Blow's misstatement of Greenpeace's position: Greenpeace does not oppose the Makah's upcoming whale hunt. We have always opposed commercial and so-called "scientific" whaling by any nation. Should Greenpeace uncover any commercial sale of whale meat by the Makah, we will actively oppose the hunt.

GERALD LEAPE
Legislative Director, Oceans Campaign
Greenpeace USA
Washington, D.C.

HOMEOPATHY HOAX
Mother Jones is the last publication I would expect to spread questionable information in support of a scam. But Michael Castleman's puff piece, "The .02 Percent Solution" (Well Being, September/October), regarding a possible physical basis for homeopathic medicine puts you squarely in that role.

First, if Shui-Yin Lo (upon whose research Castleman bases his argument) is a "disinterested third party" who "wants no part of" homeopathy, why did he speak at the annual convention of the National Center for Homeopathy in March?

Second, Lo is not a respected researcher. While the article mentions that Lo is a "former visiting associate in chemistry at California Institute of Technology," it fails to mention that he is currently director of research and development at American Technologies Group (ATG), which has been responsible for marketing the Laundry Solution globe (to clean without detergent) and The Force, an "airborne fuel additive" for your car. Both of these products are based on Lo's IE crystals, and both are highly questionable, to be kind. Oregon's Department of Justice has prohibited the marketing of both products after testing them and finding that neither had any effect.

Third, your article should at least have mentioned that the existence of IE crystals has been called into question by researchers -- including Ji-Chen Li, whose investigation was funded by ATG.

Surely Castleman must have run across some of this information. And while he mentions a survey and a study that support the efficacy of homeopathic treatments, he fails to put this information in context: Larger surveys and better-controlled (i.e., double-blind) studies have failed to find reliable, repeatable therapeutic effects of homeopathic treatment.

JAMES K. NELSON
Ann Arbor, Mich.

My studies with water containing IE crystals have revealed that such preparations have an immunostimulatory activity on the peripheral blood in tests performed in vitro. The studies, while interesting in their own right, have not explained the basis of a mechanism of action of homeopathic preparations. I have found no evidence indicating the existence of any relationship between water with IE crystals and homeopathic preparations. Therefore, I am in complete disagreement with Castleman's inference that the work with IE crystals explains scientifically how homeopathy works.

BENJAMIN BONAVIDA
Professor of Immunology
University of California at Los Angeles
Los Angeles, Calif.

Please cancel my subscription to Mother Jones. I've been advised that a subscription to Astrology Monthly, UFO Week, or Cold Fusion Today might be more appropriate. However, my new subscription to Homeopathy Monthly will be even better. It involves no newsprint, no walking out to the mailbox, no leafing through a magazine. In fact, it requires no reading at all. Yet I am told that two recent studies almost guarantee that I'll get absolutely astounding mental and physical benefits from this subscription. With all that from nothing at all, who needs the more conventional publications?

GENE COOK
Escondido, Calif.

Michael Castleman responds: Everything I've ever written about homeopathy has generated controversy, so I was not surprised by these letters. Personally, I'm still skeptical about homeopathy because it violates the laws of pharmacology. But I also honor randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials, and as I stated, plenty of them have shown that homeopathic medicines significantly outperform placebos. Anyone who would like a bibliography of journal articles in support of homeopathy may contact me through Mother Jones.

I was unaware of ATG's legal problems. What interested me was Bonavida's study showing that IE crystals, which appear to develop in extremely dilute solutions similar to those used in homeopathy, stimulate the immune system. Bonavida is no friend of homeopathy, as his letter clearly shows. But I never said Bonavida's findings proved anything. All I said was that his results hint at a possible mechanism for homeopathy and are therefore intriguing and newsworthy. The weight of the evidence shows that homeopathy has effects beyond placebo. I, for one, would like to know why.

THE NATION FIRES BACK
Before The Nation made the decision to organize a cruise, we thought long and hard about the same issues raised by Julian Brookes ("Sailing Out," Outfront, September/October).

Our research uncovered a unionized staff onboard the MS Veendam and evidence of Holland America Line's commitment to the environment. It wasn't until a few months ago that we heard of the 1994 dumping incident and the subsequent settlement. Without making excuses for their egregious error, I want to emphasize that Holland America has since made extensive reparations and gone to great lengths to represent itself as a protector of the environment. Regarding Holland America's underpaid workforce, Brookes omits important details. Crew members aboard the MS Veendam receive an average monthly base wage of $435, which is a pay rate collectively bargained through the International Transport Workers' Federation. Their employment package also includes generous benefits as well as tips, which can amount to several hundred dollars a week.

We have satisfied ourselves that Holland America is as responsible a cruise line as we could hope for, and we're confident that our cruise will not contribute to any of the problems cited above.

PEGGY RANDALL
Vice President and Director
Nation Associates
New York, N.Y.

BLAME THE SYSTEM
Mother Jones presented a fairly accurate picture of Rupert Murdoch (Mother Jones Extra, September/October), who, more than any other individual, is responsible for establishing the new global media marketplace. It is a world that generates massive profit for the handful of firms that rule the roost while producing second-rate, commercially marinated entertainment and shoddy, escapist, right-wing journalism. And, as the articles revealed, it is a world where media moguls floss their teeth with politicians' underpants.

But the problem with corporate media has little to do with Rupert Murdoch per se. His main competitors -- Disney, Viacom, General Electric, Time Warner -- are hardly superior in any qualitative sense.

The problem is that we have a media system that makes their conduct not only rational, but unavoidable. Now that hypercommercialization, globalization, and conglomeratization have become the order of the day for successful media firms, they all must follow Murdoch's lead in order to remain competitive.

The media have become enemies of democracy, if we accept the premise that democracy requires informed participants to be viable. We need to think seriously about using antitrust laws to break up huge media conglomerates; replacing the corrupt Telecommunications Act of 1996, which opened the floodgates to media consolidation and was passed with virtually no press coverage (surprise) or public participation; and strengthening media workers' trade unions, as they are the immediate cushion from total owning-class control of journalism.

ROBERT W. MCCHESNEY
Author of Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy
Madison, Wis.

Keep up the good work. Murdoch's story is a perfect example of what happens when news organizations answer to a CEO instead of an editor and fellow journalist. Unfortunately, the major networks in America have fallen victim to the same thing. The recent UAW strike is a case in point. Network news constantly told of the "hardship" the strike imposed on car dealers, but rarely mentioned the hardships GM's policies created for workers.

BILL FARLEY
Mayking, Ky.

LABOR'S UNDOING
Kim Phillips-Fein's article ("A More Perfect Union Buster," September/October) clearly reveals the guilt felt by the left over the fact that its showpiece Marxist institution -- Big Labor -- has declined into relative insignificance: Only 14 percent of the American workforce now belongs to a union.

Managers who attend my seminar are not timid human resource managers who are brainwashed by a New York lawyer into becoming wild anti-union animals with a "visceral fear and loathing" toward unions.

My seminar represents a positive approach that contends that unionization is not inevitable if management conducts business in a way that makes labor unions unnecessary in the first place.

The federal labor laws are stringent, rigid, and inexorable, not "weak" as Phillips-Fein states. Accordingly, managers must learn from seminars such as mine to remain within the law. This does not mean doing "end runs" around the NLRB, nor does it mean "sidestepping" labor laws; it means compliance.

Mother Jones cannot acknowledge that millions of Americans have comfortable and rewarding nonunion jobs. They have no desire to join unions. It is this obvious fact, not the "more perfect union busters," that makes the left in our country engage in compulsive fits of victimization.

ALFRED T. DEMARIA
Clifton, Budd & DeMaria
New York, N.Y.

Having worked in organized labor for more than a decade, I have witnessed much anti-union activity firsthand. From what I've seen, a company that hires a union-busting firm is wasting its money. Ronald Reagan didn't cause labor's torpor and disconnection from members. Neither did some goon in New York peddling simplistic fright scenarios to gullible human resource managers. Most union organizing campaigns of which I was a part failed due to their own limitations.

Yes, employers threaten and fire people. But unions are out of touch with the people they want to organize and represent. It's a stretch to throw 22-year-olds who may have never belonged to a union and never held a real job into the living rooms of people twice their age to convince them to risk their jobs and social relationships on a canned union pitch.

This is a new economy with new rules and new participants. It requires pragmatism, customer focus, and a willingness to change. It works for business. It could work for labor.

JOHN JORDAN
San Francisco, Calif.

WHOA, REDESIGN!
What have you done to dear Mother? Her tarted-up image makes her look like a cross between the National Enquirer and USA Today. All you need now is a new editor; I hear that Tina Brown is available, now that she has finished the job of converting the New Yorker into a gossip rag. Maybe you could change the name to Ms. Jones? The ultimate irony is that you chose to apply this new makeup in the same issue you nuke media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Evidently you've taken to heart the adage "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Thankfully, once you get past the artsy-fartsy visual distraction, the writing is as insightful as ever.

GARD E. NORBERG
Dania, Fla.

It's not my habit to react negatively to change; unfortunately, I hate this new look. I can hardly tell what is an ad and what is an article; I feel assaulted by the loud designs that distract and confuse me while I'm trying to read. It's much like watching one of those high-speed, MTV-style commercials, and I am reminded once again why I started boycotting television years ago. Will I have to abandon Mother Jones too? I have already decided not to renew my Harper's Magazine subscription because it has become way too trendy for poor little old me.

SOPHIE LAGACÉ
Arcata, Calif.

Wow! I love the redesigned Mother Jones. Thank you for bringing it back from its moribund state. You've made the magazine more relevant to young people and made it easier for people to get the information they need. Thank you for making it cool (again) to read a progressive publication. The left is now hipper than it's been in decades.

TIBOR KALMAN
New York, N.Y.

THE DEVIL AND HIS RAPTURE
It's ironic that Todd Strandberg (Next Door, September/October) accuses so many folks of working for the devil. Hell! I think Strandberg is the devil. This Rapture crap is not merely silly; it is evil and harmful. A Christian must be concerned with long-term policies that benefit our children, our grandchildren, and the grandchildren of others throughout the world. To rationalize otherwise is of the devil.

ANDY JOHNSON
Jacksonville, Fla.

POWERFUL ENDORSEMENT
Editor's note: The following letters refer to a Green Mountain Energy Resources (GMER) advertisement that appeared in the September/October issue, as well as to a cover wrap sent to subscribers in California and Pennsylvania.

Your magazine's unbridled support for GMER is a complete shock to me. As an "independent and objective" investigative magazine, you've held yourselves to high standards, which include no commercial endorsements. GMER is owned in large part by Green Mountain Power, a Vermont utility controlled by Sam Wyly, a Texas millionaire who made his money in oil refining and mining.

Furthermore, GMER asks its customers to pay a premium so that it can build wind generators, money that would be better spent supporting existing renewables. Before Mother Jones tries to convince its readers that GMER is the right choice, you should do your homework.

RICK KOHL
President, cleen 'n green energy
San Jose, Calif.

What am I to make of the fact that Jay Harris is willing to enthusiastically endorse a product on the cover of his magazine? How much did GMER pay for his endorsement? Even if that company is all that it says it is, they are still out to make a buck and they are still a part of the most polluting industry on the planet.

Am I to assume that Harris would also endorse other companies? After all, Dow Chemical and GM can rightly argue that they do "good for the planet" in some ways, even if they aren't perfect. What would be Harris' price to endorse their products?

GALEN ROSENBERG
Menlo Park, Calif.

I have already chosen GMER's wind power option. I also use Working Assets for long-distance and raise hell when Pacific Bell slams me to somebody else.

FRED LEFEVER
Sutter Creek, Calif.

Editors respond: The editors of Mother Jones were unaware of the advertisement and cover wrap endorsing GMER. We do not believe the magazine should be making such endorsements -- especially for a fee, which makes it look as though we have been bought off. We cannot endorse GMER; we don't really know anything about the company and did not check the veracity of the company's "green" claims before the advertisement was published.

Publisher responds: I made the unusual decision to endorse GMER only after checking out its claims and reputation with several trusted sources, including experts at national environmental organizations. I also told GMER flatly that our agreement gave them no immunity from scrutiny by the Mother Jones editors -- that if the editors uncovered significant aspects of their claims to be untrue or misleading, we'd publish those findings. GMER's contributions to Mother Jones were, of course, important, but I wouldn't have lent my name and Mother Jones' to GMER's efforts if I didn't believe, deeply, that energy choice matters for all of us.

CORRECTIONS:
The quotation accompanying This Photograph in the September/October issue was not attributed. It comes from Speaking Freely, a book of interviews with former members of Congress conducted by Martin Schram and published by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The title of Melanie Friend's book ("Global Eye," Exhibit, September/October) was misidentified. The correct title is Homes and Gardens (London: Camerawork, 1996).

The photograph on page 53 of our May/June issue should have been credited to Ragnar Axelsson/Gamma Liaison.

Former intern Michael Maiello was inadvertently omitted from the September/October masthead. He contributed to the Mother Jones Extra.