I just finished "The Sting of the Assassin" (October), and was thrilled to see that Peter Stark has extended his talent for relaying the grim reality of bad situations into a new book, Last Breath. For years I've read his gripping story "The Cold Hard Facts of Freezing to Death" (January 1997) to my sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students before our cold-weather camping trips. Stark's dramatic account of a late-night skier who runs afoul of the laws of thermodynamics keeps them rapt, glued to their seats, hardly breathing, until the last, understated line, "It's cold out there, isn't it?" (I want them to appreciate the perils of hypothermia, after all.) Their usual response, after a five-second silence, is "Whoa." I'm looking forward to the new book. My students won't know what hit them.
New Preston, Connecticut
The Common Defense
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. asks, "Why Are We in Vieques?" (October). The answer is simple. We are in Vieques so that we can train our armed forces to defend Americans. I'm a Marine Corps attack-helicopter pilot who missed out on critical predeployment training due to the closure of the Vieques Range from April 1999 to May 2000. What does that mean? It means that instead of being able to practice the integration of live surface and airborne fire support (firing from my helicopter), I spent my training period shooting make-believe bullets and controlling pretend artillery at Camp Lejeune, North Carolinapresumably one of the "substitutes" for Vieques. To put it mildly, the training was inferior. And what kind of preparation would you like me to have when I come to evacuate you and your family from a besieged American embassy?
Major Matthew A. Croce
I am appalled by the unfair trial and awful treatment of the prisoners on Vieques. That judge should be imprisoned and treated likewise. Those guards, so unlike the average soldier, are no better, nor are the military brass who take advantage of the defenseless. This is the sort of story that needs to be repeated at election time in every major news outlet in the country.
Hope on High
Judging from my three years in Nepal, and from the feedback I got from our five Nepali houseguests, Patrick Symmes did an excellent job describing the crisis Nepal is facing ("The Last Days of the Mountain Kingdom," September). I have great admiration for the people of Nepal and hope the Western world will continue to support this country through organizations like United Mission to Nepal.
Theo D. Beels
Grand Rapids, Michigan
As a longtime reader, I turned to your guide to "the toughest SUVs" ("Back to the Wild," October) eagerly expecting some biting satire. I am incredulous that this piece was in fact serious. Your minor disclaimer notwithstanding, it sure seems to me that most of these gas-guzzling, exhaust-spewing, dangerous vehicles will rarely if ever leave the pavement, and are usually unnecessary when they do. To be consistent, you should next provide guides to the best oil-drilling equipment for parklands in Alaska, protective outerwear for global warming, and armor to save the rest of us during collisionsand oil wars.
San Francisco, California
I have driven four-wheel-drive vehicles on back roads for 33 years. Rarely have I bottomed out, never have I become "airborne" or "hammered" against the many "head-size boulders" I have encountered. I would never "desperately fishtail down a sandy arroyo," even if one of my children were lying critically ill in the backseat. The time to start respecting the off-road environment is the moment you get off the road. How dare you quote Edward Abbey in the same issue as this review. What would Abbey think if he saw your reviewers bearing down on him in a Nissan Xterra"with a less-than-impressive 210-horsepower engine"blaring the stereo while he was hiking in the desert?
Jonathan B. Sharpe
Spirit of the Age
Though I don't do any outdoor activities that require equipment beyond shoes, I love knowing that so many people do. Your photos are great, your point of view unique. Truly a millennial mag: intellectually keen, physically alive, in love with both nature and technology, not to mention politics and culture. Great work.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Pressing the Flesh
With all due respect to New Mexico's buff governor Gary Johnson ("Governing Body," Dispatches, October), he forgot to look north when claiming there was no governor, senator, or congressman who could "kick [his] ass." I'm thinking, obviously, of the leader of my home state, Minnesota, Governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Gary might clock a faster marathon, but I'd take Jesse over Gary in a cage match any day.
South Hamilton, Massachusetts