Readers weigh in on "Welcome to Armageddon," by Miles Harvey. Plus: Can you be a good liberal and still laugh at Bill Maher?

By Salon Staff
Published March 24, 2004 11:13PM (EST)

[Read "Welcome to Armageddon."]

I must admit, I am more than a little disturbed about the lax security in chemical weapons compounds in the U.S. I am also not normally an alarmist, but wouldn't it have been wise to pass this information directly to the U.S. government? Any person out there with a will to destroy now knows that there are weakly guarded chemical weapons sites, and all he has to do is a little more research to find, then steal and use these items.

-- Andrew Nolley

The real threat of Armageddon is on rails. On Jan. 23, Dr. Jay Boris of the U.S. Naval Research Lab testified at the D.C. City Council hearing using its computer models to illustrate a hypothetical terrorist attack on a 90-ton chlorine rail car traveling through Capitol Hill. They estimated that 100 people per second could be killed, leaving as many as 100,000 dead or injured in the first 30 minutes. Awareness of this threat caused these shipments to be held off during events such as the September NFL Britney Spears concert and the January State of the Union message.

CSX railroad admits that approximately 8,500 carloads of hazardous chemicals are shipped through Washington each year. Only 10 percent of these may carry poison gases such as chlorine. Given the magnitude of this hazard and the probability that Washington is one of the most likely U.S. cities to be targeted in a future terrorist attack, the D.C. City Council proposed legislation to reroute these shipments around the city. However, the Bush administration, with urging from the railroads and chemical industry, has threatened to overrule this bill.

Yesterday, following the March 11 terrorist attacks on passenger trains in Spain, the Department of Homeland Security announced halfway measures focused entirely on passenger trains, even though freight trains share the same tracks and go through all major U.S. cities and pose a far greater threat to human life.

Immediate rerouting of these cargoes around large population centers is the first step. The next step is to eliminate these threats by converting to safer chemicals. D.C. eliminated this threat at its largest chlorine user, a sewage treatment plant, by switching to safer chemicals just eight weeks after 9/11. Virtually every facility can take similar action.

Unfortunately, congressional legislation to encourage this has also been blocked by the chemical industry and Bush administration. Will it take another attack before our leaders take their heads out of the sand regarding this ominous but preventable threat?

-- Rick Hind

While Harvey's article on Armageddon addresses a serious issue, its hysterical tone discredits the idea that there was really a danger. It is articles like these with the basic storyline of "you are going to die from exposure to the chemical weapons factory you didn't know you lived next to" that give the so-called liberal media a bad name.

Industrial accidents do happen, but with the exception of Bhopal, large-scale releases of dangerous compounds just don't occur very often. The idea that the risk is understated and it's all just a coverup places one squarely in the tinfoil-hat crowd.

It's the same sort of uncritical publication of doomsday scenarios of global warming that lead many conservatives to dismiss climate change as a problem altogether. An acquaintance recently e-mailed me an excerpt from Rush Limbaugh's show about a 1975 Newsweek article warning of an impending global freeze due to climate change. While the article was the result of research done in the early days of large-scale climate modeling, its panicked and breathless tone is now rightly ridiculed.

As a paying premium subscriber I generally read Salon for its insightful and well-thought-out articles. Sermons to the lunatic fringe, though, are long on rhetoric and short on insight, and I'd prefer if you left them to the Guardian or New Scientist to print.

-- Sseziwa Mukasa

[Read "New Rule," by Bill Maher.]

For an magazine that is known for cutting-edge politics and humor, having columns by Bill Maher is ridiculous. Since Salon has provided me with so many great articles, I thought I would give his column a try, but found it to show as much recognition of world affairs as the average "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoon.

Dump his column. To paraphrase Rush Limbaugh, "Having a political magazine without Bill Maher is like going hunting without an accordion."

-- Damien Newton

New Rule: Don't tell old jokes over and over again, especially if they're dumb jokes, and most especially if they're sexist jokes.

Yes, it is sexist, Bill, to suggest that men need sex to remain peaceful. I do realize what you're actually saying -- that the laws and customs of their homelands, among them the suppression of their sexual appetites, put them in a higher risk category of becoming violent. But that's similar to the argument that links AIDS to poverty.

Poor people are more likely to die from AIDS than rich people? Well, no shit! Poor people are more likely to die than rich people, period! Sex-deprived radical Islamist males are more likely to be violent? Well, no shit! Radical Islamist males are more likely to be violent, period! For that matter, males are more likely to be violent across the board.

Everything isn't about the de-feminization of America, Bill.

-- Aleksei Stevens

Salon is to be richly commended for printing such excellent work by Maher. I am a far-left liberal living in San Francisco, and still that isn't politically correct enough. For God's sake, I have friends over here arguing that each believes in the wrong kind of socialism. And so too my almost militant feminism is simply negated by my peers because, in addition to liberating women from their confining roles, I also sought the same liberation for men from their confining roles. But, I am told, men need to be punished for their former patriarchalism, and therefore need to be held to the same role-confining alpha-male slavery since, apparently, they don't deserve liberation.

It is the politically wide-open courage of Maher that can save my own progressive community from the deathly seriousness and hypocrisy that make my political and social life so dull here.

Why can't I believe in universal healthcare, gay rights and increased social services and still have a good laugh now and then? I take it well when people make fun of me, and others need to be good sports about that too. The problem with San Francisco is that when I walk down the streets I see Muslims, no problem -- but why must it always be serious to be a Muslim? Why is it serious to be feminist? When you add to that how deathly serious all the Republican businessmen are downtown, we really need a seriousness reduction.

Hey, unlike the Muslims, I ended up celibate for a different reason: I noticed that when you're not having sex with women, they're so much more fun. The minute sex enters the picture, again, the funereal seriousness resumes. Only a vast insurgence of Maherism can save us from our current socio-sexual-political death march.

-- Mel C. Thompson

What? What was that? More bullshit implying that all Muslims are the same, all men are straight, and all women are good for only one thing.

Just for the record, in some predominantly Muslim countries women go the beach in tiny little bikinis, just like here. Plenty of Muslims are having sex, as evidenced by the high fertility rate in places like Iran. And many Muslims, including angry Muslims, are women.

-- Maria Rosales

There are going to be a lot of up-in-arms letters over Bill Maher's funny little piece about the need for sex in the Arab world. There will be angry Muslims and pissed-off women who are insulted by the "objectification of women."

Puh-leeze. I am one woman who is in complete agreement. Get those boys laid. And while we're at it, get those girls laid too!

The structure of fundamentalist society oppresses both sexes in different ways. Have you ever seen a photo on the front page of your newspaper, of a protest or demonstration in some Arab city? It is nothing but a sea of men.

-- Stephanie Schwartz

Salon Staff

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