Readers respond to war-protest numbers, gay statistics and worst-case scenarios.

Published January 28, 2003 7:38PM (EST)

[Read "Sex- and Death-Crazed Gays Play Viral Russian Roulette!" by Andrew Sullivan.]

Imagine my surprise to read an Andrew Sullivan article that didn't make me want to throw things at my computer screen. This one was well written and informative, with a refreshing lack of smug pomposity.

Perhaps he should write more often about gay- and lesbian-related issues, where he shows more evidence than usual of having a heart.

-- Robert Murphy

I am so pleased to see someone actually put this sensational statistic to the test. Gay people are always quoted these kinds of statistics, but no one ever stops to investigate the source.

As a doctoral student of psychology I've been trained in research methods and statistics, and it's difficult to see this kind of misinformation after being coached on ethical professional practice. It's a shame that the masses are fed sensational sound bites and pop culture garbage and treat such information as fact.

-- Don DeBoer

The fact is, any percentage should be examined and not excused from reporting.

Unfortunately, that story has been lost due to poor verification by Rolling Stone.

Regardless, the gay community contains some very disturbed people.

-- Jan Blithe

The article in Rolling Stone is exactly what makes straight Americans suspect that queers are creepy, self-hating psychos whose practices and desires are beyond the imagination of Middle America. I think it is crucial (from a public relations standpoint) that we pressure the magazine to print at the very least refutations from other experts, and ideally a profound and prominent apology.

Mr. Sullivan, I hope that you will send your well-researched and persuasive editorial to Rolling Stone. I would like them to expose the homophobia and sheer nastiness of their article at least as publicly as they exposed these people's alleged perversity.

-- L. Almagor

[Read "The Protest-Crowd Numbers Game," by Michelle Goldberg.]

Reading through your article, I am appalled at the gross inaccuracy of Clark McPhail's assertion that only 50,000 people came to the protest. I, like many concerned Americans, braved the freezing cold to express my displeasure with the Bush administration's impending war with Iraq.

Here are just a few discrepancies in his calculation. If you look at [photographs], the crowd didn't stop until Ninth Street. In addition, Fifth Street doesn't cross the Mall. I have no idea where he found Fifth Street.

Using a very rough estimate (via a map on MapQuest), the total area occupied by the crowds is around 2 million square feet. Dividing by 10 square feet per person provides a result of 200,000; dividing by 5 square feet per person gives you a crowd of 500,000.

There are plenty of other methods for calculating the crowds. Here is just another: "Calculating Numbers: Some Thoughts."

I am a subscriber to Salon.com magazine, and I value the information provided in your articles. However, I cannot help but notice the lack of breadth and independent verification in this article. After all, it is junior high math.

-- Xu He

Regarding Michelle Goldberg's article about Clark McPhail's crowd-estimating method: I was at the march, and I agree that standing in one place at any one time it may have looked like there were 60,000 or so people at the rally site. But I believe that there were many more who had already taken off on the march -- by the time my husband and I started walking at 1 p.m., the crowd ahead of us and behind us stretched on as far as the eye could see. To take a break, we'd sometimes stand at the side of the march for a while to watch, and no matter how long we stood there was no end in sight.

It really seemed very large, and D.C. police acknowledged that they thought it was larger than October's big rally. I am not knocking McPhail's way of counting the crowds, but I do wonder how long he would estimate it would take just 60,000 people to walk past a street corner -- would it take more than two hours?

I also agree that there is no need for wild overestimating. If it turned out that only 60,000 people showed up, most traveling most of the day from far-away cities braving extremely frigid temperatures, I'd still think that wasn't a bad turnout. And I would be very proud to be counted among them.

-- Tamar Smith

[Read "Worst-Case Scenarios," by Gary Kamiya, Joan Walsh and Eric Boehlert.]

I think Eric Boehlert is right to question the assumption that any war with Iraq will be a walkover. The White House and their boosters in the media are so busy parroting each other's assumptions that they take it to be gospel truth. They're forgetting a few key facts:

  • The Middle East mentality is different from Middle America's. Confronted with overwhelming force, if Saddam turns Iraq into a fireball, sacrificing millions of Iraqis to take out even 20 American soldiers, chances are he will earn his place in history for defying America. If his hold on power is threatened, there is nothing in his life to suggest he will quietly leave to take up mah-jongg in Saudi Arabia -- he will fight, and to him, every wound he inflicts on us will be worth losing millions on his own people.
  • Only in D.C. does anyone believe that there will be no causal link between Palestine and Iraq. The angry youth in the Middle East don't need much provocation to launch hundreds of small, hard-to-prevent attacks against Israeli and American interests. It doesn't matter what the Beltway thinks; if Saddam claims America is out to crush Iraq and Palestine, there are millions ready to believe him.
  • For all those who've inserted the word "Iraqi" into the sentence "The Afghan people will welcome outside intervention, given their despotic regime and will immediately set about establishing democracy" -- has anyone checked what's happening in Afghanistan lately? Last I heard, they'd banned cable TV and co-education as un-Islamic. Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses.
  • As for those who point to our overwhelming technological superiority, they should take heed of multiple warnings from military analysts that al-Quaida and the remnants of the Taliban have proved very adept at adapting to Western tactics and strategy, much more than we've adapted to theirs. Or simply, take heed of how Osama bin Laden escaped the Tora Bora caves. His bodyguard went one way with his satellite phone, while he went another. I'll give you one guess which one we tracked and captured with our superior technology.
  • -- Suman Nambiar

    While I appreciated your efforts to demonstrate the possibility of disaster looming around every corner, I sincerely hope that you will counter with a series of best-case scenarios.

    It would surely enliven the debate to consider what might occur if President Bush is justified in snuffing out the threat of Saddam Hussein and state-sponsored terrorism, thereby protecting the relatively stable government of Israel.

    Please also include articles on how tax cuts may stimulate growth, that SUVs turn out to be great for the environment (given the cold snap in the Northeast this week especially), and the justice of ending an era of reproduction without representation.

    -- Gregg Matthews

    The only plausible explanation for the Bush administration's global assault on human rights is that they are trying to initiate Armaggedon and bring Christ back to earth. I'm serious.

    Reagan was enamored of Armaggedon; so was James Watt. These people are betting on paradise by initiating catastrophe.

    They're our very own, very real Taliban -- and they already have nuclear weapons.

    See you on the other side ... or not.

    -- Steve Short

    Good God almighty, the Chicken Littles are running wild at Salon. Bush is killing off the polar bears, ending life on Earth as we know it, and enriching his cronies while he ruins the economy. All this while planning to plunge the whole world into WWIII.

    Wow, the "vast right-wing conspiracy" has nothing on the nutty, way-out thinking of the liberal/left-wing loons.

    -- Robert Glancy

    In "Worst-Case Scenarios" it's stated, "It's hard not to notice a disconnection between the challenges facing the U.S. and the Bush administration's response." This is one of the most masterful understatements I have ever heard.

    Bush is, or has chosen to be, blind and deaf to the international community, international law, American opinion, science, the American Constitution's guarantees of freedom, the devastation he has wreaked on the economy, the needs of the average Joe, and common sense. Instead, his tunnel vision has, from the beginning, been focused on waging war, helping the rich, eliminating our civil rights, and advancing an ultra-conservative agenda.

    This is fanaticism pure and simple. And the devastation that a true fanatic leading the United States can create in the world is virtually unlimited.

    I urge everyone to stand up for reason, for peace, for freedom now. Tomorrow may be too late.

    -- Frances Burmeister

    Thank you for my morning dose of disaster. Should I kill myself now, or wait for the plane filled with anthrax to crash into my house?

    -- Reuben King

    By Salon Staff

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