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International Mail Call

Lights Out in America
/ Source: Newsweek International

Readers of our Aug. 25 story on America’s blackout praised New Yorkers’ deft handling of yet another crisis. Wrote one, “People were calm and considerate.” Others criticized Americans’ overuse of electricity.


Along with the rest of the world after September 11, I watched with awe and great respect as New Yorkers carried on their lives with dignity, generosity and resolve. I witnessed that same resolve and graciousness during the August blackout (“Heart of Darkness,” Aug. 25). We were in New York searching for an apartment for my daughter, who is attending graduate school there this fall. We had just gotten off the subway when the lights went out. Along with the rest of the city, I feared the worst, but people all around us, wherever we walked, were calm and considerate of each other. We did not see any looting, and more astonishing, there was not even a short-tempered honk of a car horn. As the evening went on, the relief was palpable—young people were drinking beer outside bars; other people were huddling with strangers, sharing radios and information. I am truly grateful that I experienced New York at its finest.

Carmie Winters

New Orleans, Louisiana

America needs to change its attitude toward energy production and transmission. Unless we want to live with increasing fossil-fuel-based pollution and indefinite policing of the Middle East, we need to get away from the centralized-power-grid concept and start using alternative energy sources such as solar or emerging fuel-cell technologies. If the government and consumers are to spend billions of dollars upgrading the system, cleaning up air pollution and providing military and economic support in the Middle East, it seems clear that we should be discussing alternative energy.

John M. Goeke

High Point, North Carolina

I have many relatives in Memphis, Tennessee, who in July experienced 160kph winds that knocked out power for more than 300,000 people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes. The national media gave the storm little or no coverage, but most people in that area remained without power for a week or more. The pictures and stories from New York about people coping for one night in the dark must seem amusing to others who spent days without electricity, cleaning up hurricane-like damage to their homes and businesses. All that most New Yorkers had to deal with was a night without computers or TV.

Holly Schafer

Cape Girardeau, Missouri

As the responsible operator of a central California water system supplying nearly 1 million gallons of water daily to almost 1,000 homes and businesses, I find it ludicrous that people who depend on electricity to operate their businesses do not have a backup system for emergencies. Our two generators are tested monthly, extra fresh fuel is on hand and we can readily supply almost 600,000 gallons of water daily in an emergency. Why should the government be responsible for protecting the storage or production of companies that depend on electrical power to function?

Steve White

Tehachapi, California

I take umbrage at the quote equating the power outage in Detroit with the sci-fi movie “Mad Max.” It gives the impression that Detroit was chaotic during the outage, but that’s just plain wrong. There were fewer than a handful of arrests for looting. Nearly all the power was restored by late the following day, as was most of the city’s water-supply system, one of the largest in the world. I was on the 25th floor of an office building when the power went out. The building’s occupants were courteous and helpful as they made their way down the stairwell. I then drove many miles in stop-and-go traffic to get home. Everyone was cooperative, despite the fact that there were no police at the intersections. The next morning, I went to a local grocery store to pick up water and other supplies. Sure, customers were anxious. But we made it through the crowded lines by joking with one another and sharing stories about the outage. I’m proud of this city and its 4.5 million people.

Steven R. Gabel

Novi, Michigan

InsertArt(2031104) During my drive home on the day of the blackout, I was delighted at the thought of an open-window night with no lights, no computer, no TV, no cleaning, no incessant air-conditioner hum or other noises and, best of all, reduced pollution. Alas, I was disappointed to find upon my arrival that my section of New Jersey was fully operational. Considering the negative environmental impact of our energy sources and the long-term potential for creating an unlivable planet, I am very surprised that so much emphasis has been placed on repairing the grid. Instead, we should take the billions of dollars used annually for grid maintenance and focus more attention on developing effective and efficient renewable energy alternatives.

Elizabeth Loew

Flemington, New Jersey

Thank you for the excellent coverage of the blackout. Even though I live in Phoenix, I, too, was profoundly affected by the blackout because it caused me to miss my mother’s funeral. Scheduled to arrive in Detroit early that Friday morning, my husband and I were delayed by flight cancellations due to the power outage. We did not arrive until Friday night. My brother and his wife were similarly stuck midroute in Houston—without their luggage, and with my mother’s ashes. We all finally made it to her hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan, and were grateful we had time to spend with family and to visit the places where my mother grew up. But we missed the opportunity to deliver the eulogies we had written.

Kari Carlisle

Phoenix, Arizona


Finally, someone has the courage to address the seemingly taboo subject of regarding suicide bombers not merely as evil, but as a phenomenon based on cause and effect (“Suicide Bombers Can Be Stopped,” Aug. 25). Suicide bombers haven’t risen out of a vacuum—they have been victims of oppression. In no way do I condone their tactics, but to go after them in the way, for example, that Israel does treats the symptom, not the cause. This will not work.

Linnea Mielcarek

Los Angeles, California

I am offended by Fareed Zakaria’s suggestion that oppressive regimes create the environment that allows suicide bombing to flourish. The bombers and their handlers are responsible for their own subhuman behavior, and no excuses can be made for them. It is interesting to note that neither of the groups mentioned in Zakaria’s article, the Kurds and the Chechens, are primarily interested in obliterating a nation and its people. The Palestinians are.

Adam Rose

Bronx, New York


In your Aug. 25 story “Who Says There’s No Second Act?” Jhumpa Lahiri says, “A true Indian doesn’t accept me as an Indian and a true American doesn’t accept me as an American.” Happily, the novelist is wrong on at least the second premise. Anyone who would deny Lahiri or any other newcomer her acceptance in America is not a true American. True American-ness isn’t about place of birth. It’s about an attitude toward our fellow humans and holding certain truths to be self-evident. If Lahiri believes in the American idea, she’s as American as I am, and I happily welcome her to the fold.

Christian Lilley

Bangkok, Thailand


I commend your Aug. 25 “Letter From America,” which was a factual and not-too-biased note on the problems of living with timber rattlesnakes (“Snakes in the Grass”). I would have expected an urban magazine to be much harsher on our less-understood critters. However, I must complain about the photograph accompanying your article. You ran a picture of a Western diamond-backed rattlesnake, a species that is not to be found in upstate New York. To you, maybe, a rattler is a rattler, but it does a disservice to the undereducated public. It is kind of like running a picture of a coyote in a story about wolves or a bottle of Pepsi in a story regarding Coca-Cola. Media sources can also call on someone like me to verify species’ identity. No picture at all is better than a misidentified or misleading one.

Richard C. Vogt

Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians

Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia

Manaus, Brazil


The undisguised glee displayed by George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld over the deaths of Qusay and Uday Hussein was sickening. The gruesome display of their dead bodies left me numb (Aug. 4). What has become of Western civilization under President Bush?

Emmanuel Majebi

Lagos, Nigeria


Your July 14 article “Return of the Jews” really agitated me. It sounds as though until now, it was impossible for Jewish people to live in Germany because we Germans were all anti-Semites. What is strange about religious people studying the Talmud in Berlin? Jews did this for hundreds of years in Germany before they were driven from their homes. Sure, national socialism killed millions of innocent Jews in the cruelest way. That must neither be denied nor forgotten. But most German Christians never discriminated against German Jews. Jewish people served our land faithfully (as in the 1870-71 war between Germany and France and in World War I), and great Jewish scientists have enhanced Germany’s reputation. It is unfair to make the third generation of Germans after World War II feel ashamed for a history they never wanted. In German schools, pupils visit synagogues and mosques. We have many action groups against racism and fascism, and there are counterdemonstrations against fascist ones. Germany says “never again!” to fascism.

Fabian Wendt

Ratingen, Germany

I was surprised to learn from your article that “by a 1989 law, Germany grants all former Soviet Jews citizenship and automatic government benefits as a gesture of atonement.” To my knowledge, the 1989 agreement was then limited to some 50,000 to 60,000 applicants. I also find it difficult to understand why Germany should be the world’s No. 1 immigration destination for Soviet Jews. Would it not be easier for them to settle in, say, Israel or the United States, both of which have well-developed Jewish community life? Or are the substantial German government benefits and other financial advantages the decisive factor? If that is the case, it would appear that it is all just about money.

Hilda Hunold

Dusseldorf, Germany


Having read your “Last Word” first, as usual, I was hit squarely by an insider’s refusal to give up hope (“Following the Roadmap,” June 30/July 1). Palestinian Saeb Erekat’s beliefs (if only the United States would send monitors to the occupied territories and distance itself from autocratic allies in the region, and if only Islamic Jihad and Hamas would go along with a ceasefire...) led me to take heart myself. But then, minutes later, I lost hope again when I read in the same issue, in “Sky High,” that “Israelis take 40 percent of their water from the occupied territories, and that means they can never give them up.” Case closed.

Gail Braybrooks

via internet

Palestinian peacemaker Saeb Erekat gives his view on the “Roadmap for Peace” but takes no responsibility—for himself or the Palestinian Authority—for any failures in reaching a peaceful resolution. He says that the United States did not impose implementation of the Mitchell and Tenet plans. But he does not mention the Oslo accords that he and Yasir Arafat negotiated and signed. He seems to have forgotten that after Oslo, Israel did withdraw from some areas but the Palestinian Authority stopped neither the violence nor the incitements (whether in school textbooks or in the mass media) as called for in the agreements. If the Palestinian Authority had been able to stop the terrorists within its jurisdiction, Israel would not have had to go in to stop the attacks. Israel withdrew from Bethlehem, Nablus, Hebron, Jenin and a good part of the Gaza Strip. All this in return for promises made and not kept by Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.

Aharon Goldberg

Hatzor Haglilit, Israel

© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.