This ecosystem death should alarm us all
Your front-page article "Sudden Death of Ecosystem Ravages Long Creek" (Sept. 20) is a most disturbing story. I plead with your editors not to let this story die until there has been an independent, scientific investigation as to how an ecologically healthy 38-mile creek in our area could be so utterly decimated in the span of three weeks.
Total dissolved solids (TDS), a byproduct of natural gas drilling in this region, have been demonstrated time and again in other parts of the country to be toxic to humans and wildlife. We all, including our children, swim, drink and bathe in this same water that appears to be significantly toxic. We all, either directly from fishing that creek or indirectly in other points of the food chain, consume this toxin in our food and water.
If a 38-mile creek can be laid to waste in 20 days, imagine what health consequences could be in store for humans who drink, eat and breathe in this region. The PG story points to TDS as the probable culprit in the sudden death of this waterway. I would suggest that an immediate suspension of natural gas drilling in Western Pennsylvania until an appropriate investigation is complete is called for.
EDWARD C. KETYER, M.D.
A creek tragedy
I am an avid outdoors man and fisherman and I was very concerned about our natural resources even before the Dunkard Creek incident. Due to energy demands and the economy, drilling has and will increase in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Some problems that are arising are linked to underfunding and under-enforced regulations.
Drilling operations are supposed to "treat" wastewater, but obviously it is very expensive and not all operations are following these regulations. What concerns me even more is that drinking water advisories on the Monongahela River were brought about due to total dissolved solids concentrations that exceeded federal levels last year.
Allegedly, this was coming from another state, but as a result of continued pollution, almost a year later there is a horrible tragedy, and even still no one is saying for sure who did it, where the damage is coming from or who will foot the bill to restore the environment. If regulating officials cannot quickly catch polluters with warning and advance notice, what is going to happen in the future?
It seems that the process to allow more drilling in Allegheny National Forest moved very quickly and much faster than the process to stop pollution in the Dunkard incident areas. Unfortunately, it may be only a matter of time before the next environmental tragedy occurs in regions like the Laurel Highlands, Allegheny National Forest or Fisherman's Paradise.
I know that there is a lot of money to be made at the corporate, state and private levels and that this is a multifaceted issue, but the inability to regulate might have to mean less drilling or possible legislative changes to preserve Pennsylvania's most valuable resources.
A car-free zone
To me, "renaissance" is a bright word, and ours should be more dazzling and bold.
Downtown Pittsburgh should become pedestrian-only -- free of cars. We are blessed with a Downtown that is a perfectly walkable size. So draw a line north to south from river to river through the new hockey arena, and from there to the Point is our car-free zone. We'd be a wonder! It would be glorious! Parking could be across shore and people would ferry over or walk across the pedestrian bridges.
Imagine how rich and possible this idea is. We couldn't keep visitors away, people who would want to live and invest here. A rust-belt Venice almost. Tourist dollars may be inversely proportionate to the number of cars not trampling our spirits. And it's so easy because we can do it.
This should be our foremost dream (begin your imagination). Our hearts would swell with life, no longer pummeled and darkened by cars -- we'd be on luminous ground!
Big power grab
The question of the day: Will Congress enact health-care legislation that empowers the people, or the government? Not only did House bill HR 3200 offer a trillion-dollar price tag, it offered a breathtaking power grab over individuals' health care and insurance decisions. Among its 1,000 pages: further consolidation of federal power over "comparative effectiveness research" (building on the billion-dollar bureaucracy created by last winter's stimulus bill); a public health plan (with strong economic incentives for employers to drop existing coverage for employees in lieu of a cheaper 8 percent payroll tax), and a health benefits advisory committee (bureaucrats with the power to mandate procedures every insurer would have to cover). All told, HR 3200 is a big government lover's dream.
Instead of more government, Congress could enact consumer-centered reforms. How about eradicating red tape that prevents insurers from offering medical plans on a national scale, or passing incentives to foster the growth of a market for catastrophic coverage plans and tax-free health savings accounts? For the uninsured, how about sliding-scale tax credits that would help such individuals purchase catastrophic coverage? How about doubling the tax deduction for contributions to nonprofits such as Catholic Charities, which offers medical services out of its Downtown clinic?
As we work to improve access to the world's best health care, let's choose solutions that trust the American people and not the bureaucrats in Washington.
Making math click
As someone with two degrees in mathematics, I think the use of calculators in the classroom is a good idea ("Counting Too Much on Calculators," Sept. 2), both to perform lengthy calculations and to give students some hands-on experience.
At the same time, I am glad that I learned my arithmetic the old-fashioned way, including my father showing me how to do square roots with pencil and paper (rarely taught anymore).
I had a great middle-school teacher who showed us an important connection: Whenever one does "long multiplication" or "long division" or adds fractions with a common denominator, one is using the distributive law, which is basic to a later understanding of algebra. The different arithmetic procedures are then seen to be united, and algebra is seen to "grow out of" arithmetic.
From this law one can solve algebraic equations, show that negative times negative must be positive, and even see why the pencil-and-paper square root procedure works!
Let's look beyond our desires for a better life for all
Leading environmental experts contend that the highly consumptive lifestyles of Western nations are polluting our world and depleting its natural resources. Edward Wilson puts this idea into perspective in "The Future of Life": "For every person in the world to reach present U.S. levels of consumption with existing technology would require four more planet Earths."
Let us reflect on our lifestyle choices to truly differentiate between our needs and our wants. The current U.S. problem with obesity is an indication that we do not know when to stop eating, just as our society's obsession with material wealth is reflected in the vast amounts of advertising bombarding us constantly with the message to overconsume. I believe that materialism clutters our lives, exacerbating feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction and facilitating a constant comparison between what others possess and what we do not.
Instead of using luxury shopping as a pastime, why not look inward instead? Why not focus on relationships with family members and friends, improving connections with other human beings? Why not cultivate a spiritual relationship with the natural environment, whether it be in a local park or just outside the window with an evening breeze? Music, poetry, dance, theater and other art forms are excellent ways to appreciate and/or express individual and collective creativity.And volunteerism and service can be instrumental in helping individuals find meaning and contribute to their local community, thereby serving a purpose greater than themselves.
Dowd's muddy view into my soul
Well, columnist Maureen Dowd finally caught me out ("The Racism Factor," Sept. 14). I am against big government and huge deficits, so I am indeed a racist. Yep, my two grandchildren, whose father is a gentleman of color, always suspected as much, and so did my other son-in-law who is Chinese. Didn't like government-controlled health when Bill Clinton supported it mainly because he was "the first black president." How did she know? I thought I covered it up pretty well.
Upper St. Clair
Dismayed but not surprised
As a taxpayer and the parent of two school-aged children in the North Allegheny School District, I was dismayed and angered, but not surprised, to learn of the decision by the school board and Superintendent Dr. Patricia Green not to air President Barack Obama's recent speech to our students. By choosing to put politics and party affiliation ahead of educational opportunity, the all-Republican school board and the superintendent have done a great disservice to the district's taxpayers and children.
While children may have viewed the speech at home, I think losing the opportunity to view and discuss it with their peers has deprived them of a more enriching educational experience.
In the district's message announcing this decision, no supporting reasons were offered. I for one do find it ironic, though, considering that for the past five years my children, as part of McKnight Elementary's Memorial Day school assembly, have been subject to the incoherent ramblings of Jane Orie and the fiery partisan rhetoric of Mike Turzai, our two Republican members of the state Legislature. A feel-good, flag-waving opportunity, yes, but a necessary part of the district's educational mission, certainly not!
Students deserved to have a choice
As a retired educator from the Fox Chapel School District, I am saddened by the "theft" by the district's administrative team responsible for making a most unfortunate decision prohibiting students from experiencing an educational event that could have had far-reaching effects on any number of students.
Those students had a constitutional right to view what was intended to be a welcoming gesture by the president of the United States. The movement was nothing less than a "Hitler" tactic, violating the most precious of democratic principles for which we stand! And furthermore, administrative leadership's use of the educational process that the occasion could have utilized was a further example of an inept understanding of the learning process by those involved in making this decision. One of the many appropriate strategies, or methods intermediaries, could have taken a real life experience and turned it into an opportunity for a writing-response activity, a process by which the district has attained recognition.
The least restrictive option, and most democratic, would have been to provide the viewing in an auditorium, or the likes of it, for those students who would have chosen to be involved. Not being given the "choice" contributes to the demise of a democracy. Let's stop playing political games at the expense of our young people.
Jones Mills, Westmoreland County
Men can be victims, too
Regarding "Woman Charged With Raping, Burning Man" (Aug. 3): Thank you for printing this story. Sexual assault can and does happen to men. For far too long the notion that men cannot be victims of sexual assault has prevailed. Studies indicate that 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 18. That's millions of men in the United States and Canada. For the most part, their shame, and guilt has kept them quiet, suffering the same as woman, but with far fewer resources upon which to seek support, and help. Think about the man sitting next to you, your brother, father, uncle, grandfather, or son. 1 in 6.
Thank you, PG, for letting your readers know that men can be hurt too.
The culture of filth
As one who volunteered to clean the filth left by others one recent weekend, permit me to make some observations and some practical suggestions.
It was a bad day for cigarette smokers, beer drinkers and those who urinate in plastic bottles and toss them off the side of the road. The major fast-food chains look bad as do those who toss soiled diapers from their cars. You are pigs in human form. Actually, you are worse than pigs, but it is an apt metaphor.
But the rest of us are to blame for allowing those hogs to ruin our area with their filth. We drive by, or hire people to clean, or walk right past it. One of my co-workers saw me carrying all my collection materials and joked that I was the garbage man. Better a garbage man than a slob, I replied.
There isn't any dignity in littering and there isn't any dignity is resigning to live in its midst. So here are some suggestions for the future.
Enforce littering laws.
Make people who litter spend time picking it up.
Instead of throwing the litter away, return it to its owners. Look for the name on the bag and return it to the store.
If cigarette butts aren't litter, then swallow the things. For as much as they cost, it makes sense.
Refuse to live in a culture of filth. It is contagious to other aspects of life.
Finally, show as much respect for your living conditions and take as much pride in yourselves as you do for a bunch of grown men who wear tight yellow pants with numbers on their shirts.
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