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November 14, 2000


NASA, Come Home!

Another rocket to Mars? Hopefully not. The U.S. has landed enough costly hardware on the red planet. And how about that $90 billion international space station -- built for strictly political reasons? Instead of projects such as those, why not refocus on NASA's "Mission to Planet Earth," where the real problems are. Unknown to most folks, NASA also has the capability to study our home planet. Satellites can be used for "remote sensing," which involves a vast array of instruments to measure things such as temperature, moisture, pollution, and composition of the earth's surface. But why is this so important to our survival?

Everyone knows about satellite weather forecasts. But are you aware that expanded technologies can also chart trends in rainfall and temperature that can cause climate changes? Leaving aside the controversy surrounding Global Warming, there are indeed constant climate changes, caused by a variety of factors. Take, for example, urbanization: NASA scientists recently studied the Atlanta metropolitan area, where high energy use creates "heat islands" that subtly alter surrounding climate. This phenomenon is even more pronounced in third-world megacities. Natural forces such as volcanic eruptions can also alter weather patterns. Whatever the causes, the effects for humankind can be far-reaching and dramatic.

Even a minute climate change, such as an increase or decrease in rainfall, can affect a region's agricultural capacity. In the long run, water supply also affects industry and overall economic conditions. Cooler temperatures restrict the types of crops that can be grown. But rising temperatures may also have unwelcome consequences. International health authorities have noticed how mosquito-borne diseases spread as regions outside the equatorial belt become more hospitable to those insects. Further along, other consequences speak to the very survival of our civilization. Archaeologists and historians have long wondered why civilizations rise and fall, and climate change is emerging as one of the plausible explanations. Are we immune? An industrial society with robust population growth and economic activity ultimately cannot escape the laws of nature; a growing consensus in the scientific community concludes that human activity is now indeed a factor in environmental degradation on a global scale. So what can we do to prevent ecological disasters in the future? The solutions are as complex as the causes, but building a solid information base about the globe should be the first step. So please, NASA, come home!

Life Forms by Dan Silver - Revisited

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Read more comics in the Life Forms Archive!

Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I assume that you receive a lot of messages especially with the opportunity that the Internet gives people across the world. However, an old-style, hand-written letter will continue to be popular regardless if it was written by hand or typed using a computer. The main thing is that you put the letter into an envelope, seal it, and put it into the post. This has something in common with older traditions like throwing a bottle with a message into the sea or burying a message in the ground. We think: "Let our next generation find it." It gives us feelings of eternity and enlivens our communication.

When someone is devoted to some idea, he/she does not stop thinking about it during day or night, and sleep only enlivens his/her thoughts, making it real and tangible. For example, I dreamed that this letter had already been written and sent to you by me. Probably it was because I am working on a cause -- building a shelter for homeless dogs and cats.

I live in Ukraine, a former Soviet Union Republic. I am honored to being born in my country and living in a time of big changes. I am happy to be Ukrainian even though there are hundreds of more prosperous and developed countries in the world. My country became independent quite long ago. However, our living standards have not become higher. Democracy does not produce the economic results as quickly as we had hoped. Our society is split into very rich and very poor people. The middle class is represented by a very small percent of the Ukrainian population.

I belong to the middle class, those who are able to start their own business. I was able to support not only my family but also families of my 25 employees. However, the subject of my letter does not concern business but about charity.

Twenty-five years ago in the Soviet Union was released a very interesting movie, a tragedy named White Bim (nickname of the dog), Black Ear. I do not know if this movie is known in your country, but people in Soviet Union were crying after watching this movie. The story of this movie is about how an old and ill man, a writer who lived alone and found a friend. It was a puppy, an Irish setter. The problem was that this puppy is not like other puppies of the same breed (his color different) and he had to be killed. These two lonely beings found each other. The final part of the movie was very tragic. The old man became ill and was taken to a hospital, and his friend Bim was turned out of the house. There was no one to look after the dog and there was no food. The dog was walking along the streets and asking people to help, but it was instead picked up and taken to a special prison for stray animals. Conditions were awful in this prison, and Bim passed away from cold and hunger. The old man, after he recovered from his illness, tried to find his friend but instead found Bim's dead body.

A similar story happened to me too. I lost my dog Rex. There is too much homelessness and hunger in our city, so I've decided to help these poor animals. Our city's municipality does not have enough money for such a project, so I plan to rent an old house and organize a shelter for homeless dogs and cats. I hope to be able to provide these animals with food and medical assistance, and to find people who love to look after animals to care for them. Unfortunately, our citizens cannot donate enough to help with this project, as their salaries are very low.

That is why I am writing to you. If you could publish this letter in your newspaper and one percent of the people read it and wanted to support this project, we would help hundreds of animals in Kiev, the city where I live. I would very much appreciate it if people would write to me and express their opinions on this subject.

With a hope, yours sincerely,
Michael Rozhkov
Olegovskaya Street, No. 36
Kiev-04071, Ukraine

Dear Editor,

On November 17-19, students from the University of South Alabama and Springhill College will gather together with thousands of people in a vigil and protest at Ft. Benning in Columbus, GA, to call for the closing of the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). Students are not the only ones who are involved in this vigil, there will be ministers, priest, nuns, veterans, teachers, labor organizers, and retirees. It has been projected that 20,000 people will show up for this event.

The School of the Americas is a US Army training school that trains soldiers and military personnel from Latin America. According to the SOA, about 60,000 members of Latin American militaries have graduated from the school since its start in 1946. Graduates from the SOA have included some of the most notorious human rights abusers from Latin America. Whenever human rights abuses are reported in Latin America, SOA graduates are sure to be on the list of abusers. We, the US taxpayers, support the SOA. We paid to educate Manuel Noriega at the SOA and now pay to imprison him in Florida. SOA graduates have been responsible for the Mozote massacre of 900 civilians in El Salvador, the assassination of six Jesuits and their co-workers in El Salvador, the murders of 19 striking banana workers in Colombia, the killing of human rights defenders in Haiti, and murder of a UN official in Chile. Unfortunately, the list continues. In 1996, the Pentagon released seven training manuals used at the SOA and as reported by The New York Times, "Americans can now read for themselves some of the noxious lessons the United States Army taught thousands of Latin Americans...[The SOA manuals] recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail, and arresting the relatives of those being questioned." This is not acceptable under any circumstances.

We, who live in the United States, can speak for those who have died in the hands of SOA graduates. Closing the SOA will not solve the problems in Latin America but it will send a message that the US will no longer be directly associated with the deaths, abductions, and disappearances of thousands of people in Latin America. For more information on the SOA, check

Thank you,
Tara Potts
Mobile, AL


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