Mixed Saudi Signals

Regarding reform in Saudi Arabia, David Ignatius tells us that "what's striking is that it's a real debate, discussed in Saudi homes, newspapers and among the princes" ["Shaping Reform in Saudi Arabia," op-ed, March 11].

On the same day, your paper also reported that "Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan said that, as the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia will not allow churches to be built on its land regardless of the outcry from 'fanatics' " [Washington in Brief].

Is this an example of the "real debate" Ignatius describes?

-- Peter G. Miller

War Without Evidence

Your March 11 editorial "Are Inspections Working?" dismisses Mohamed ElBaradei's debunking of the evidence that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. You call this "secondary" to the president's case for war, remarking that Secretary of State Colin Powell did not mention it at the United Nations. You neglected to mention that ElBaradei's report also demolished the president's claim in his State of the Union address that Iraq bought aluminum tubes to make centrifuges for reprocessing uranium.

There is no substantial evidence that Iraq is developing nuclear weapons. Yet President Bush and his advisers have used the fear of Iraqi nuclear weapons as a justification for war, constantly referring to Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction," which to most people means nuclear weapons.

I must disagree strongly with your editorial. The fact that there is no evidence that the Iraqis are developing nuclear weapons is very significant and should be a reason for us to reconsider our rush to war.

-- Lawrence D. Stone

So What?

I do not support Sen. John F. Kerry for president and have no interest in his wife's decision to change her last name ["57 Varieties, One Last Name," editorial, March 7]. The editorial admitted that this is a trivial matter. So in light of everything that is happening today, this issue needed addressing? I'm not even sure what the point was. Was it some sort of backhanded cheap shot at the senator (even his wife is reluctantly supporting him)?

-- Denise Riley

Poor Visibility

Your paper claims no bias against the antiwar movement, but how else to explain that a national antiwar rally attended by thousands, featuring famous and important female leaders and cultural figures, held on International Women's Day and ending with the shameful arrest of Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston and others, ends up buried in your March 9 Metro section?

-- Steve Cobble

Life After Debunking

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I solved the March 8 Quote Acrostic. The quotation is from an article by Christopher Sloan in the November 1999 issue of National Geographic, the focal point of which was a specimen that Sloan gushed was a "true missing link" between birds and dinosaurs. I wonder if Charles Preston was aware when he constructed his puzzle that the specimen was quickly thereafter shown to be a fake.

Regardless, the article and the puzzle exemplify the disconnect between truth and entertainment.

-- Storrs L. Olson

The writer is a senior zoologist

at the Smithsonian Institution.

Resourceful Rocks

The article "Water Scarcity Prompts Scientists to Look Down" [news story, March 10] was informative and thoughtful regarding the important role that groundwater can play in addressing the world's impending water resource crisis. But it was marred by the mischaracterization of underground aquifers as "huge rivers and lakes far the beneath the surface."

Aquifers are consolidated rocks or sediments with water-saturated pores or fractures that are permeable enough to conduct the flow of that water. (In contrast, an aquitard is a confining unit made of lower-permeability rocks or sediments that restrict the flow of water.) Vast regional aquifers such as the High Plains Aquifer -- which stretches from Nebraska to Texas -- helped bring agriculture and settlement to the American West. Today, millions of Americans rely on groundwater pumped from aquifers for domestic use, agriculture and industry.

To make your own experimental mini-aquifer, fill a cup with sand or gravel and then fill it with water. To see the effect of permeability, put a hole in the bottom of the cup. A cup of gravel, which has a higher permeability, will drain faster than a cup of sand.

-- David M. Diodato