'Sustainable' development helps avoid disaster

Brendan O'Neill's Jan. 2 opinion piece, "Iran's quake: Nothing 'natural' about this disaster," makes an important point about the unnaturalness of what we call "natural disasters," but his analysis of the underlying cause of the destruction in Bam is deeply flawed.

First, he fails to recognize that development itself is an important variable contributing to such disasters around the world - development in flood plains, along hurricane-affected barrier islands, and in canyons and forests where fire is part of the natural cycle.

Second, Mr. O'Neill's suggestion that "sustainable development" is somehow to blame for the flimsy construction of buildings in Bam is deeply problematic. If anything, sustainable and appropriate building technologies promote the construction of buildings that are more durable and longer-lasting than the sort of construction that characterizes much current housing development in this country.

Indeed, sustainable development is first and foremost about ensuring the lives and livelihoods of current and future generations - its advocates are deeply concerned about the human condition. This type of development is not to blame for the tragedy in Bam. Rather, the blame should be shouldered by a global community that spends billions on its militaries and on conspicuous consumption.
Coleen Fox
Thetford, Vt.

A soldier's worthwhile example

Regarding the Dec. 30 article "A scholarly soldier steps inside the world of Iraq's potent tribes": As globalization blurs the boundaries of national sovereignty, the United States will undoubtedly be called upon to intervene more frequently in the affairs of other states.

To avoid the repetition of Vietnam and Somalia, it's essential the military understand the sociopolitical landscape they are entering, not just at the command level but down on the ground with the foot soldier.

The example of Lt. Col. Alan King shows how this has a direct bearing on the success of the mission. Let us hope the military devotes more resources to broadly developing these skills among the troops. Soldiers must understand how their individual actions affect the bigger picture.
Rick Green
Vancouver, British Columbia

Demand for hybrids ignored

Regarding your Dec. 30 editorial "Guzzlers in Our Midst": With little marketing to speak of, hybrid vehicles have been a hit here in California. But despite consumer interest, automakers have not moved quickly enough to meet this demand. Hybrid vans, for example, are available in Japan, but are years away from arriving stateside.
William Grewe
Ventura, Calif.

From high-tech to high-wheeling

Regarding the Jan. 5 article "Still looking: update on four long-term job seekers": I remember the angst I felt, even after 22 years at IBM, with every layoff rumor. My wife was a stay-at-home mom to three boys, and I was our sole supporter. I eventually lost my job, and though it took another year for me to realize it, it was the best thing that could have happened.

An IBM e-commerce division, totally separate from my job, helped me launch a website to sell unicycles. Even though this was supposed to be only a hobby business, which cost $700 to start, after our seventh month, the site was generating more income than my old job with IBM.

There is plenty of opportunity in America, and I would encourage those who have suffered from layoffs to consider self-employment.
John Drummond
Marietta, Ga.

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