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We all have a hand in humanity's abuse of the land

Published Oct. 4, 2005

Individuals create the conditions for their own environmental problems one ecologically unconscious act at a time. Yet who among us will accept that blame and own up to our mistakes? How self-righteously indignant we become when we catch a diseased fish in waters poisoned by industrial wastes. How morally superior we feel when we rail against the companies with their spills from tankers, fouling the ocean and the shoreline. But the tar-like residue of environmental destruction sticks rather doggedly to our own feet.

The solutions to the environmental conundrums we face are rooted in our individual attitudes toward land use, which seem to have changed little, if at all, for eons. Our ancestors probably started requisitioning natural resources as nomadic hunter-gatherers, more or less in agreement with nature's innate laws of supply and demand. As they learned to cultivate food plants, the quickest and easiest way to clear land was to slash and burn the forest or whatever was in the way. When the land gave out, the answer was to move on and start over again. That way, the land got a chance to start over, too.

As population grew, so did competition for the land's resources. Tribes began establishing fixed territorial boundaries. It was then that slash-and-burn agriculture began in earnest. It has remained the preferred way to provide for permanent human settlements for agricultural pursuits.

One form of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again while expecting results to be different. Experience tells us our land-use mentality and methods do not work. Resources disappear right before our eyes. Yet we keep on doing the same old things, while we hang on to the illusion that we are advancing. We pretend the details of the latest urban plan represent something new. We hold up the minutiae of precision-drawn, multicolored maps as evidence of cleverness.

We do not seem to be aware that these plans are tinged only slightly by verdant landscapes. We accept the rainbow visions the maps present, fantasies of urban order. When black-and-white realities of asphalt and concrete chase the apparition away, we gaze upon a landscape far from the natural world. Our understanding of land use and land management is as hazy as the horizon in the smog-laden air.

Have we forgotten what the hunter-gatherers instinctively knew? Humanity is not apart from, but rather must be a vital part of the balanced environmental equation. We should be neither conquerors who control the land nor tourists just passing through.

Robert M. Thomas, Thonotosassa

His 20 bits' worth

Regarding your column Will third try be the charm for $1 coin (June 19), on the return of the $1 coin, I find this preposterous.

The only new coin and/or bill should be a $2.50 value. The quarter is the most versatile coin we have, and a $2.50 dollar coin/bill will save the Treasury mega-dollars. It will cut down on the change rendered. There is no question it would be widely used and welcomed by the public.

Bob Rasmussen, Gulfport

In Ito's defense

This letter is from someone who has watched the O.

J. Simpson case from the start. Judge Lance Ito has taken the most celebrated case in the history of American jurisprudence and done a terrific job! I doubt there are many of us who would desire to be the judge in this case.

Judge Ito has been criticized for allowing both sides a lot of latitude in their presentations. He is trying to be fair to both sides!

However this case comes out, O.

J. Simpson is very fortunate to have Judge Ito making the decisions in the court that will decide his fate.

Barry Sleesman, Spring Hill

Beware of school prayer

Re: School prayer.

Because our founding fathers learned from the past and knew that organized religion can be cruel, intolerant and self-serving, they made sure we had complete religious freedom.

Now the religious right is threatening that freedom by trying to force a return to school prayer. Next they will be telling all of us what to pray, how to pray, when to pray and what to believe.

What we believe and how and when we pray are private matters between the individual and God. We shouldn't let the religious right get its foot in the door or history will repeat itself.

I don't want them telling me or my children or my grandchildren what to believe or anything else.

We must have complete separation of church and state if we want to be truly free.

Jennie Warda, Belleair Bluffs

Casino benefits

Re: Floridians are firmly against casino gambling, letter, June 19.

The writer states that gambling per se will bring crime to the state. I wonder if the writer has been in a cocoon or sound asleep all these years. Just to refresh his memory, we have in this great state lottery games, horse racing, dog racing, jai alai, Seminole Indian gambling casinos, gambling cruise ships and, yes, the biggest gaming of all _ bingo. As far as crime is concerned, we had it here before, we have it now, and we'll have it in the future. Gambling doesn't create crime.

We missed an opportunity of a lifetime in the last election by voting casinos down. Hopefully, Florida will face reality. In a matter of several years, every state in the nation will have casinos.

Look at the positive side _ good-paying construction jobs, good-paying casino jobs and, most important to all, tax revenues. Thousands of Florida residents are traveling daily to states that have casinos. So, come on, Floridians, let's not pass up this opportunity if it should come up again. Remember, casino gambling is here to stay.

Ed. Nizelski, Spring Hill

For appropriate punishemnt

Tom Zucco's article in the Sunday, June 11, Times (I'll take punishment for $500, Alex) reminds me of something I would like to bring to the attention of the School Board of Pinellas County. Namely, as every good judge knows, the best punishment is the one that best fits the crime.

Coupled with this thought is the concern that the School Board has had regarding the high percentage of out-of-school and in-school suspensions. I hate to say this, but the board is the governing body that has caused a bit of this problem, not to mention, of course, our misbehaving kids. The board members have tied the hands of their principals and assistant principals to the point where they have no other option.

Idea: Why not allow them to better fit the punishment to the offense? Several years ago, when the county discipline policy was a bit more flexible, I remember one of our darlings who attempted to break into our computer room. The assistant principal at the time scheduled him to "hard labor" after school, weeding the football field in the heat of the spring day. Let me tell you, that kid never again tried to break into our school!

Further, I would like to see the students who desecrate our buildings with graffiti also be the ones who have to clean it up. Why should the janitors have to do this? They didn't cause the problem in the first place.

Any student who "mouths off" to a teacher might be better served by having to give a half-hour oral report on obedience, rather than spend one hour staring at his assistant principal. I think the teacher who was offended would much prefer this punishment.

I leave it to the School Board and their creativity to come up with other just punishments, but please, when they do, they should put it in the discipline policy. In this day and age, our administrators follow it to the letter.

Cindy Gamblin, Dunedin

A divided Nigeria

On Monday, June 12, you published an editorial headed Make Nigeria pay for its abuses. On the same day, Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that a judge in Nigeria had given a family two weeks to decide how to share two mango trees that they had inherited. They had agreed to share the trees, branch by branch, but couldn't decide which branch should go to each family member! The case had been going on since 1992.

In London last year, 20 newly qualified oculists from the British Commonwealth of Nations were invited for a course in advanced ophthalmology. No fewer than five were from Nigeria. The students met on the Saturday prior to the course commencing on Monday. As there was a problem concerning accommodation, which required a joint solution, they were divided into four groups of five students, depending on the geographical location that they were from, and given an hour to come up with a solution. Naturally, the five Nigerians, all from different tribes, were grouped together. At the end of the hour, three of the four groups each offered a workable solution. The Nigerian group was unable even to agree on a group chairman, let alone try to solve the problem.

These two examples simply illustrate the great divides in Nigeria. Only international sporting events involving national sides unite the population. It is also a fact that the vast majority who live in Nigeria today are already disenchanted with politics.

Although civilian governments have only occupied the central stage for a little over 10 of the 35 years since independence from Britain, they have demonstrated ethnic tribal loyalties rather than pursuing national ideals! Unfortunately, so too have the majority of the military leaders, and where real idealistic leadership has threatened to emerge, it has been quashed. Nigeria's vast oil revenues and their potential have encouraged and will continue to encourage personal and tribal hierarchy rather than national patriotism!

Your editorial did not point out that the federal and state elected bodies which Gen. Abacha disbanded had been elected by less than 5 percent of the population. Moreover, many of them had already demonstrated even in their relatively short terms in office a distinct lack of patriotism and instead a singular objective to acquire personal wealth _ another pitfall shared by both military and civilian governments.

It is too idealistic to assume that democracy will solve Nigeria's problems. The vast majority of the eligible voting population, born and bred deep within the confines of tribalism, do not truly understand or would indeed appreciate the personal commitments required for a successful democratic style of government. Meanwhile, advocating sanctions, immigration restrictions apart, may curtail military gain but more certainly will cause greater hardship and suffering among the masses of the already poverty-stricken Nigerians. (I finally left Nigeria in March, having spent over 35 years there.)

Alexander G. Weir, Treasure Island

Few apologies

Did we Americans ever apologize for fighting our way out of the British Empire?

Did we apologize for hustling that war that tore away a sizable chunk of Mexico?

Did South Carolina and all those other states apologize for fighting the Union?

Did the United States of America apologize to Spain for that land-grabbing war of 1898?

Did we apologize to the Vietnamese for blasting our way into their country?

Don't hold your breath while waiting for World War II apologies!

C. Harvey Gardiner, Zephyrhills

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