Letters to the editor

Remove nuclear warheads now

President George W. Bush said in a May 23, 2000 campaign speech, “For two nations at peace, keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidents or unauthorized launch.”

In fact, we know that in January 1995, the U.S. and Russia came within four minutes of a “nuclear exchange” when Russia mistook a Norwegian atmospheric research rocket [for] a sea-launched ballistic missile. In addition, Admiral Stansfield Turner, former director of the CIA and former commander of the U.S. atomic-powered ballistic-missile submarines, said in 1997: “We should not assume we can deter indefinitely all uses of nuclear weapons. … Over the last 50 years, we have come too close to mistakes and accidents as a result of being on hair-trigger alert.”

Today the threat is compounded by the deteriorating condition of Russia’s early-warning system, which could result in further false signals. Also, states the Union of Concerned Scientists, “The risk of unauthorized use by a ‘rogue commander’ is increasing due to the deterioration of Russian command control system.”

As it stands, the decision-making time is a mere 15 to 20 minutes. We cannot let this stand as the time allotted to decide the fate of the entire world. In 1990, former President Reagan said it most harrowingly: “Six minutes to decide how to respond to a blip on a radar scope and decide whether to unleash Armageddon! How could anyone apply reason at a time like that? … This hair-trigger existence … this threat of annihilation … the fatalistic acceptance of annihilation. … We couldn’t continue this nervous standoff forever.”

Russia agrees that de-alerting to gain time would involve both Russia and the U.S. lowering the alert status and increasing the amount of time it takes to launch. They also agree to a more verifiable approach — to remove the warheads and place them in secure storage. This action is long overdue. In 1996, the World Court interpreted Article V of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to mean, “action not mere words is expected to achieve nuclear disarmament through good faith negotiations.”

But the U.S. continues to make nuclear weapons with the “life extension upgrade” of the W87 warhead of the MX missile (100,000 times the destructive power of the A-bomb on Hiroshima) at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. This makes the MX “reliable” for the next 120 years. In addition, in July, 2000, the D.O.E. acknowledged that the U.S. has designated and tested a “new” nuclear weapon — the first since 1988. The U.S. has been spending over $35 billion a year on nuclear weapons, and there is no way to gauge the amount of health costs due to radiation poisoning (due to the testing and manufacturing of nuclear weapons) on communities, workers and the environment. Nor can we gauge the amount of dollars and stress spent on the mental-health care of generations growing up with the threat of nuclear destruction overshadowing their lives. As long as the U.S. continues to lead the world in the upgrade and manufacturing of nuclear weapons, in addition to staying on hair-trigger alert, the more other nations will pursue weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological and nuclear — and we will have no moral standing to dissuade them. Last year, during a review conference of the N.P.T., a New Pledge on Nuclear Disarmament was agreed upon by the nuclear powers, who pledged an “unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”

Will the U.S. stand behind its word this time? In a large way, it’s up to [us to] see that it does. Join the worldwide call, which includes mass numbers of groups and individuals from every walk of life — from scientists, physicians and former presidents, to the Pentagon and the U.N. General Assembly — by urging President Bush to act on his words, not only for the security of our country, but also for all life on Earth as we know it, including the fate of all future generations. Our senators need to hear from us as well. Don’t delay in taking a few minutes to urge them to first de-alert by removing warheads now.

— Sophie Wade
Weaverville

Hooray for the Cannabis Clowns!

It seems to me that your coverage of the “Cannabis Clowns” has had such a negative slant [March 7, “Just the facts”]. I wonder why?

Those of us who unite against the war on drugs should say “hooray for the Cannabis Clowns!” They are warriors against insanity, and they represent the law — and its liaisons — as they are: a bad joke. What has Community of Compassion done to forward the movement?

— E. Scruggs
Leicester

Meatless in America?

Over the past month, I’ve been reading that the “mad cow” and “foot-and-mouth” diseases in Western Europe have dropped meat sales by 50 percent and doubled the number of vegetarians, that our meat inspection system has been a massive failure, that Vice President Cheney has suffered his fourth or fifth heart attack and that more than 60 percent of Americans are overweight.

The other day, I head Bill Maher on [the television show] Politically Incorrect talking about some folks who observe the Great American Meatout by asking their friends and neighbors to kick the meat habit on the first day of spring and explore a wholesome and nonviolent, plant-based diet.

They may have something there.

— Anthony Taber
Asheville

Guided by Voices’ talent overestimated

Please allow me the latitude to express a contrary opinion to the adulating commentary by Michael Bixler in last week’s Mountain Xpress [March 7, “Guided by gusto”]. The performance of Guided by Voices Friday night may have been a perfect example of the very losing of sight rock ‘n’ roll has turned to in attempting to replace the real thing. Although I agree with singer-songwriter Bob Pollard’s [words] that “’67-’80 has got to be the golden age of rock,” it’s the second half of his sentence — “and I was there to experience it” — that leaves me wondering which “there” he was talking about, since, at age 43, he would have been 9 when the golden age began.

Checking their Web page, “gadfly” interviewer Andrew Albanese notes that Pollard “spews humorous observations and rock cliches … while the band huddles to light cigarettes or swig from the whiskey bottle. … The band almost always plays until they are no longer physically able to continue, either from exhaustion or intoxication.” As one who has played live rock ‘n’ roll since 1965 and still do, please forgive my assessment that GBV wasn’t able to begin, much less continue. And I’m not talking [about] their drinking. Sorry Michael, but Isolation Drills (TVT Records) is not a “deft reminder of why the electric guitar was born.” The evolution of the guitar from acoustic to electric was necessary to transform a rhythm-only instrument into a lead (i.e., solo) instrument. Unless the term solo has changed its meaning to all downstroke bashing, those guys could use a few guitar lessons. Incidentally, I met the guys before the show, and they’re a great bunch — they just can’t play.

— Bruce McTaggart
Barnardsville

School-transfer policy unfair

We moved to East Asheville last year and were excited about the opportunity we were given to choose our daughter’s school, especially when we discovered Isaac Dickson Elementary. Moving first- and fourth-grade girls to another city, another way of life and, most daunting of all, a new school has been both rewarding and difficult, but my husband and I have gotten through the difficult times with the knowledge that we were sowing seeds for our children’s futures. Finally, they are settled in, have made close friends and are adapting daily to the changes in their lives. A few weeks ago, however, things came crashing down when my neighbor alerted me to the article in the Asheville Citizen-Times about the Buncombe County School Board’s decision to stop releasing county students to the city school system.

I would like to propose to the school board that they reconsider this policy and explore other possible solutions to their problem of too few A.P. students, which is the excuse they have given for wanting the policy change. Over 100 voters came to the last school board meeting last week to show their opposition to this new policy. Was anybody listening?

[Editor’s note: Apparently someone was listening. The Buncombe County School Board has rescinded the ban on county-to-city school transfers.]

— Lynne Siler
Asheville

Tobacco is not source of niacin and tobacco kills!

In the March 7 issue of Mountain Xpress, in the letter entitled “Conspiracy or treason,” Larry Monaghan gave misinformation about both the source of the niacin used to enrich breads and cereals in this country and the consequences of tobacco use. The source is not tobacco! And tobacco kills!

First of all, according to General Mills, niacin (Vitamin B3) used to enrich cereals is manufactured from a mineral source. Regardless of the source, however, deficiency is of little concern in our country today. The American Dietetic Association reports that “for people who consume adequate amounts of protein-rich foods, a niacin deficiency isn’t likely.” Foods that supply niacin naturally (or tryptophan, which converts to niacin once consumed) include meats, milk, fish, peanuts, whole grains, avocados, asparagus, mushrooms and greens. Whole grains include breads, pasta and cereals that have not had the B vitamins taken out during processing. Enriched food products have simply added back nutrients lost during processing. This includes the B vitamins, such as niacin.

Dr. Goldberger, to whom Mr. Monaghan referred, proved that poor diet was the cause of pellagra. He introduced meats, milk, eggs or yeast into the diets of children from an orphanage in Mississippi, but did not use tobacco or enriched cereals to cure the condition. Currently, most Americans eat a variety of foods with niacin in them. Pellagra is simply not a threat to our society.

Mr. Monaghan was right when he stated that one in eight smokers experiences lung cancer. However, this fact does not minimize the serious overall health and economic burden that tobacco use places on our community and throughout the world. Tobacco use is the leading cause of heart disease, emphysema and stroke in the United States. Tobacco use kills more than 430,000 people in our country every year — more people than drug overdoses, alcohol, abuse, murders, suicides, motor vehicle accidents, fires and AIDS combined. Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death.

These are not the statements of “special interest groups.” These are the facts.

— Erin Braasch
health educator, Buncombe County Health Center
Cathy Hohenstein, R.D.
nutritionist, Buncombe County Health Center

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