Todays Letters: He tested limits of human endurance

Letters to the Editor
Published December 8, 2007

Thanks for your compelling and respectful look at Evel Knievel's stunt career.

I was among the Idaho newsmen on the north rim of the Snake River Canyon covering the event on that breezy Sunday afternoon in September 1974. We watched through binoculars as a crane loaded the daredevil into his rocket on the south rim. Soon, all the information we had been given about trajectory turned useless as the chute deployed early and Knievel, still inside the X-2 Skycycle, bumped nose-first along the south edge of the canyon and came to rest in rocks and bushes about 20 feet from the river, about 600 feet down from the rim.

We figured he landed no more than 300 horizontal feet from where he took off. But he was cheered by onlookers as the helicopter rose from the canyon and deposited him back on the south side. Some of the estimated 20,000 who paid $25 each to watch the stunt up close (they saw virtually nothing except the rocket's short flight) felt cheated. Still, doubters swallowed hard and admitted that it took a crazy kind of bravery to sit in that 13-foot rocket and push the button that launched it up a 56-degree ramp.

Daredevils are eventually consigned to the "can-you-believe-they-did-this" books, but during their careers, they inspire us all with feats that test the limits of human endurance. Even those who labeled the failed Snake River Canyon stunt a "ripoff" conceded that the man in the red, white and blue jumpsuit made a lot of us wonder how far we could stretch our own horizons.

David J. Wilson, Clearwater

A flawed daredevil

Like many St. Petersburg Times readers, I grew up as a kid watching most if not all of Evel Knievel's daredevil jumps that were featured on TV during the '70s. Needless to say, he was one of my idols at the time and a worldwide icon of that era. I even remember making my own ramps with childhood friends and jumping over them on our bicycles pretending to be him. Of course, I was a little saddened the day I learned that he died.

The day after he passed, I ran across a biography with interviews of Evel Knievel on the History Channel so it seemed appropriate to watch. Not until that time did I realize what a bitter, first-class heel this man was, right up until the very end by all accounts.

In this show, he bragged about how many women he cheated on his wife with, the alcohol and drug abuse, how he claims to have single-handedly saved the toy industry, how much money he made. It went on and on and got worse as I watched. It seemed as though he was a braggart to the very end with something to prove. I am just not sure exactly what.

Of course, I also learned how he nearly beat an associate to death with a baseball bat because this person wrote a book exposing the truth about Evel Knievel. Apparently, "the book painted a less than perfect picture of Knievel's character and alleged that he abused his wife and kids and that he used drugs." According to civil and criminal court documents, this book was even approved and signed off on by Evel and his lawyers prior to publication. After Evel was jailed for that, it was all downhill for him from there. It was a sad show to watch.

Fortunately as a child I was sheltered from the negative truth and still saw him as the world's greatest daredevil. Unfortunately now I know the truth. May he rest in peace.

Stephen Maisel, St. Petersburg

A great and decent man

I had the pleasure of meeting Evel Knievel not that long after he had just moved to the area. At that time there was a bar/restaurant/nightclub near the St. Petersburg-Clearwarer airport. He was sitting there with a friend having a drink and like a lot of people I approached on the simple hope of meeting him.

What a nice guy. He shook my hand warmly and then instead wanting to talk about all the incredible things he did in his life he wanted to know about me! He asked about where I was from and what I did for a living and so forth. He even bought me a drink! It wasn't just with me either. I saw lots of folks come up to him and he was the same, easygoing, generous person with all of them. He clearly loved people and in spite of all his fame was just a regular guy.

Rudyard Kipling once wrote that if you can walk with kings and never lose the common touch then you'll be a man. In my experience Evel Knievel did exactly that. I will therefore remember him not only as the great and daring entertainer that he clearly was but also as a great and decent man. He'll be missed.

John Benincasa Jr., Oldsmar

Division opens over science standardsDec. 6, story

Teaching creationism will undercut science education

Is it any wonder that American students consistently score so pitifully as compared to students from countries whose leaders believe in modern science? State Board of Education member Donna Calloway contends that evolution "should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origins of life."

As a geobiological oceanographer, I teach the theory of evolution because it is the testable scientific theory for the origins of life. This is my professional responsibility as a scientist. Teaching creationism or intelligent design as alternative "theories" would be professional malpractice. Virtually all of modern medicine and modern agriculture are based upon evolutionary theory, to say nothing of hydrocarbon exploration and safety testing throughout industry.

Calloway should not be on the state Board of Education if she doesn't understand the most basic aspect of science, which is that a hypothesis is only elevated to the status of "theory" when it has been tested repeatedly and has a vast underpinning of scientific observations.

What does she advocate be taught as an alternative to the theory of gravity or the theory of plate tectonics? Gravity may only be a theory, but try roller blading and you will test it repeatedly. And you don't have to be a scientist to accurately predict the results. Plate tectonics is a theory that explains many natural phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanoes. Some primitive peoples believed that dragons lived in volcanoes and breathed fire when they became angry. Should we teach the "dragon hypothesis" as an alternative "theory" for the origin of volcanoes? It has just as much scientific basis as Calloway's "other theories of origins of life."

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D., professor, College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg

Division opens over science standards Dec. 6 ,story

No religion in public schools

In the latest controversy over the state science curriculum, state Board of Education member Donna Callaway wants "God to be a part of" this process. Let me speak frankly: Ms. Callaway, not everyone believes in your god, or any god, and those of us in the religious minority shouldn't have to abandon public education so our children won't be taught "science" derived from religion. Imposing such a choice on parents is imposing your faith on anyone who cannot afford a private education for their kids. It is proselytizing, it is class warfare, and it is unconstitutional.

I'm raising my children to live moral lives and take responsibility for and improve the world in which they live. I have no fear of them knowing the creation stories of many faiths, but they need to know as well the science of the development of our species, determined by the scientific method.

I submit that if Donna Callaway cannot function as a member of the board that oversees the learning of all Florida students - Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, atheistic - without yielding to the desire to impose her religious views on them, she should be removed.

Andrew McAlister, Temple Terrace

Division opens over science standardsDec. 6, story

Where's the conflict?

I see the age-old controversy is again raising its ugly head. I have never understood why it is thought that believers in the theory of evolution deny the existence of God. I see no conflict between evolution and intelligent design. To me, evolution is the supreme and ultimate example of an intelligent design and could never have emanated from any source other than the creator of all.

Let's stop worrying about how things started and worry more about preserving what we have!

Adrianne Sundheim,Odessa

Division opens over science standardsDec. 6, story

Remember Galileo

I find it very difficult to believe that we're now in the 21st century and 85 percent of American adults still believe in God but only 42 percent believe in Darwin's theory of evolution!

Had they lived 400 years ago, these same people would have been rallying against Galileo for espousing Copernicanism - which dared to propose the radical idea that the Earth was not actually the center of the universe. As we know, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest by the Catholic church for heresy and forced to recant his beliefs since they ran contrary to the literal interpretation of the Bible.

Sound familiar?

Bob Lindskog, Palm Harbor

Mall gunman kills 8, self Dec. 6, story

Don't feed hunger for fame

The mall shooter left a note. It said, "Now I'll be famous." Did he mean his tragedy and picture would be on the front page? He wouldn't be around to see it, but other disturbed youths would.

He had a history of depression. Two weeks previously he broke up with his "longtime" girlfriend, followed by getting fired from his job. He had been "kicked out" of his family home, he was treated for ADD, he "had a drinking problem," he smoked pot.

Wake up people! This was a kid in trouble with a potential of doing horrendous things! When will the media learn that as long as these unfortunate people see others like themselves splashed over the front page in their dubious moments of "fame," the carnage will continue.

Get them help! Let them be "famous" when they achieve something in life, not in death.

Bobbye Blackburn, Clearwater

Mall gunman kills 8, self Dec. 6, story

Control those guns

Eight people were killed at an Omaha, Neb., mall, the second mass shooting at a mall this year, in addition to many other senseless killings in prior years. There seems to be no solution to preventing them.

But there is one. If Robert A. Hawkins had not been able to get his hands on that rifle because it was not available this tragedy would not have occurred. But how do you make it not available? Simple. Pass legislation that would accomplish this.

There are too many unbalanced persons around who admire their firearms as a child admires a toy, and when provoked will use them. If I were asked if I would give up my right to own a firearm and know that by doing so those eight persons would still be alive, there would be no question in my mind.

Which one of you presidential candidates has the guts to put this on your platform? I'll vote for you regardless of your party affiliation.

Morris Grossman, Sun City Center

A gift of life

In this season of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and in January the Islamic New Year, everyone is searching for the perfect gift.

Five potential gifts can obtained within 30 minutes at the giver's convenience. Donate whole blood with Florida Blood Services, 1-800-68-BLOOD, and learn about apheresis donation. Register at FBS to be a bone marrow donor. Expectant mothers can make arrangements with their ob/gyn to donate umbilical cord blood. Register with LifeLink (1-800-262-5775) to be an organ/tissue donor and inform family members that this is your wish.

Throughout the year your gift of life is guaranteed to rock the world of a family and their loved one.

Bob Wise, Tampa

We're protecting government investmentse_SClBA decline in the real estate market and the growing subprime mortgage lending crisis have impacted the U.S. financial market. In Florida, we are keeping a watchful eye over the state's investment funds, particularly our model pension fund. As part of this oversight, the governor, chief financial officer and attorney general, sitting together as State Board of Administration's board of trustees, took steps this week to address a lack of investor confidence in one of the investment pools.

The Local Government Investment

Pool is a short-term investment pool used by a number of counties, school boards and other government entities in Florida. Withdrawals escalated at a significant pace over the past few weeks, decreasing the pool's original balance of $27-billion to $14-billion. Whether or not this "run on the bank" was fueled by legitimate concerns, we immediately acted to temporarily suspend withdrawals and hire a world-renowned asset management firm to conduct a thorough review of the investment pool and recommend a proposal with the best chance at preserving investors' principal.

After reviewing the pool's assets, the firm issued a report with several recommendations that we, as the SBA board of trustees, enacted this past Tuesday. In the simplest terms, we supported a plan to isolate any distressed assets into a secure fund which will be allowed to mature and increase in value over time. The rest of the assets are of a high-grade money market quality and will be placed in a fund that is open to current and new investors. We also voted to create relationships with financial institutions to provide loans to investors seeking immediate access to capital.

In passing this reform, we had three guiding principles. Our primary goal was to adopt a plan that would provide the best opportunity for investors to ultimately retrieve every cent they originally placed in the fund. We also knew that it was essential for investors to have access to their assets as soon as possible, so that local entities could cover immediate needs such as issuing payroll for teachers and other public servants. Additionally, we understood the importance of restoring confidence in the new fund, which will be managed by independent financial asset managers and rated like many other money market funds.

We believe the actions taken this week will best protect the investments of hundreds of local governments in a manner that is fair and secure to all investors. Above all, we commend the local government entities who have worked with us over the past week to help craft an innovative and sensible solution.

As trustees, we will work to increase transparency in the state's investment funds and require the SBA to increase its communications with local governments and other investors as well as the Florida League of Cities, Florida Association of Counties, Florida Tax Collectors Association, Florida Sheriffs Association and others. Together, we can overcome the current crisis and provide a model to other states facing similar circumstances.

Charlie Crist, governor; Alex Sink, chief financial officer; and Bill McCollum, attorney general, Tallahassee