Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Gulf’s ‘Dead Zone’

In his Tuesday Commentary column “Fishy ecology tales,” Michael Fumento raised several issues regarding the causes and consequences of the massive area of depleted oxygen (hypoxia) in the northern Gulf of Mexico. As the saying goes, he is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.

He claims that “sediment analyses indicate a Gulf hypoxic zone more than a century ago,” but in fact, sediment records clearly show that severe oxygen depletion has become a regular feature just during the past 40 to 50 years, coincident with increased nutrient pollution.

Though marine biologist Nancy Rabalais’ direct yearly surveys did not begin until 1985, independent models demonstrate that the hypoxic zone began its growth in the 1970s.

Mr. Fumento implies that this hypoxic region is natural by claiming there are large areas of hypoxia in places with no fertilizer runoff. There are large areas of the deep ocean with naturally low oxygen levels, but these have nothing to do with hypoxic zones that have developed in many coastal waters around the world coincident with the dramatic use of manufactured fertilizers in agriculture beginning in the 1960s. In contrast to the deep ocean zones he cites, coastal hypoxia has negative effects on living resources and is preventable.

In claiming that there is no correlation between the yearly measurement of nitrogen loads and the size of the zone, he uses the worn-out trick of looking at short records.

Roll-over effects from one year to the next and weather conditions also affect the annual size of the zone. When one views the longer record of loads and sediment history, coupled with the new simulation and forecast models, it is clear that the long-term trend in the hypoxic zone is in fact well-correlated with loads.

Finally, Mr. Fumento takes a cheap shot at Ms. Rabalais by implying that she created the so-called Dead Zone in return for publicity and “huge cash awards.” We have known Ms. Rabalais for decades and can assure your readers that her modest research funding has been earned the hard way through the competitive, peer-reviewed gantlet.

While Mr. Fumento fretfully imagines Ms. Rabalais as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, her integrity and commitment to sound science exceeds those of several EPA administrators we can remember.


Professor of natural resources and


University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Mich.


Professor of marine science

University of Maryland Center for

Environmental Science

Cambridge, Md.

Comparing home-schooling parents

Home-schooling results are enviable. At times I have considered it for my family. However, I believe it is a fallacy to compare it to the cost or outcome of public school education as Michael Smith of the Home School Legal Defense Association did in his Monday article, “Trend even stronger than figures show” (Metropolitan).

Home-schooling costs far more than $600 per child per year if you consider the lost wages of the parent-teacher, if he or she works. In my home, a conservative estimate would be about $50,000 for each of my two children.

The educational and social outcomes cannot be compared fairly. Home-schooling parents are a highly select group of highly motivated and involved parents.

While I certainly agree with the rights of home-school parents to provide education in their homes, in some respects, it is a shame that the public education system loses them. Their influence, involvement and demand for excellence would influence the education of many children, not just their own.


Burke, Va.

A disease or a habit?

The article “Chronic overeating called an addiction” (Page 1, Aug. 15) says much regarding the subject of obesity, but it also leaves much to be defined.

First, it cites Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson’s statement that obesity is the second most common cause of death in the country. However, in the National Center for Health Statistics report for 2001, obesity does not even appear in the top 10 causes of death.

Second, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the article says obesity “increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea, and it contributes to 400,000 deaths annually.” This statement contends that obesity increases the risk of suffering from conditions that may lead to death.

So, first we hear that obesity is a cause of death, and then we hear that it increases the risk of numerous diseases. Is this not a case of doublespeak? Either obesity is a cause or it leads to a cause, but it can’t be both.

I have never seen a cause of death listed as obesity, so I must ask: Why is the subject of obesity being raised?

Is it because a lot of government funding is being sought for studies on the subject? What is the medical industry going to do about it, develop a drug that will keep people from eating?

Drugs are available to help people with many of the leading causes of death. I do not know of a drug that helps people with the “illness of obesity.”

Many people enjoy eating, and some of those people naturally burn it off while some cannot. Because their bodies do not burn it off or they have no desire to attempt to work it off does not make it a disease. So let us enjoy our food and quit pointing the finger of guilt.


Port Orchard, Wash.

Old wounds, new wars

Harlan Ullman in his Tuesday Op-Ed column, “Ghosts of Vietnam,” cheapens the awarding of the Purple Heart. In his column, Mr. Ullman states that he dimly recalls “the response of one of our sailors winning the Purple Heart when asked by the awarding officer where he had been shot. The sailor held up an arm and pointed to a band aid covering a small wound.”

War isn’t a contest, and one doesn’t win the Purple Heart; one is a recipient. Then again, because Mr. Ullman advises Sen. John Kerry, perhaps this was no more than a Freudian slip, and he was unintentionally referring to Mr. Kerry’s Band-Aid and Purple Heart.

It’s time Mr. Kerry stopped using Vietnam as a smoke screen so he doesn’t have to talk about issues.


Former Vietnam POW

Falls Church


Harlan Ullman tells us he admires presidential candidate John Kerry and occasionally advises him and says Sen. Kerry must put Vietnam behind him. His admiration for Mr. Kerry speaks volumes about Mr. Ullman.

Does Mr. Ullman admire Mr. Kerry’s anemic record of accomplishment in the Senate and his 75 percent absence record from the Senate Intelligence Committee?

Does he admire Mr. Kerry’s six votes in favor of the barbaric procedure of partial-birth abortion and his support of forced abortion in China with our taxes?

Does he admire Mr. Kerry’s unwaveringly consistent votes against every weapons system needed to defend our country? Does he admire Mr. Kerry’s lie about being in Cambodia on Christmas Eve in 1968? Does he admire Mr. Kerry’s smearing of Vietnam veterans with false charges of war crimes?

Mr. Kerry’s record — including Vietnam because he prominently promoted it in his campaign — must be examined because, as Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Lying, dishonor, war crimes, anti-defense votes and lack of accomplishment are elements of Mr. Kerry’s history the country need not repeat.

Mr. Kerry’s record is being examined, and it is found wanting.


Silver Spring

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