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Letters to the Editor 

River Pilots Respond
Carolyn Krack's letter to the editor ("All's Not Well," Jan. 20) incorrectly stated that the Coast Guard in New Orleans has no Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) and mistakenly attributed opposition of VTS to river pilots. The reality is the Coast Guard has been given an active VTS. By July 2004, all international ships and almost all inland vessels are required to have onboard an Automatic Information System (AIS), a key component of VTS. Mississippi River pilots have taken a leadership role in bringing VTS to New Orleans. (It was actually Channing Hayden, president of the Louisiana Steamship Association, who spoke out against VTS.)

The Crescent River Port Pilots are assisting the Coast Guard in the continual development of a state-of-the-art system that will set the national standard. The VTS Center operates 24/7, and there is always a Crescent Pilot and NOBRA (New Orleans -Baton Rouge Steamship Pilot Association) Pilot in the center to provide expertise and local knowledge of the river. In July, the vice-chairman of the National Transportation and Safety Board commended the Crescent pilots on the role they have played in developing and establishing VTS.

Mississippi River Pilots have extensive knowledge of the river; without their commitment to VTS, the effectiveness of the system would be severely diminished. Thankfully, pilots have always placed safety at the forefront of their careers. The Mississippi River is one of the busiest and most treacherous rivers in the world, and yet the pilots have maintained a 99.9 percent safety record. It was that commitment to safety that prompted the pilots to not only support VTS, but take an active role in its development.

Without the pilots' skill for navigating the intricacies of the river, the Carnival Conquest would never have been able to steer under the low-lying Entergy wires. Millions of dollars in economic development would have been lost. Instead, the cruise ship industry in New Orleans is burgeoning, and safety is the key to its development.

As for homeland security, river pilots are often the only American presence aboard foreign ships. They are trained in assessing dangerous situations and reacting quickly to provide the citizens of Louisiana the highest level of protection.

These facts are often ignored by The Times-Picayune as well. Thank you for the opportunity to remind the public of the vital role of VTS, the Coast Guard and the Mississippi River Pilots.
--Captain A.J. Gibbs
Crescent River Port Pilots' Association


Defending Your Life
In the Feb. 3 "Health & Wellness," my good friend Mackie Shilstone wrote in an article titled "Defending Your Life (and Health)." As a long-time martial arts self-defense instructor with more than 30 years of experience, I strongly disagree with some of the things that were mentioned as related to self-defense philosophy for civilians.

First of all, I have the highest respect for Shilstone and what he has accomplished. The two of us worked together in the boxing camps of former world champions Michael Spinks and Riddick Bowe. What disturbed me most about the article was that some of the self-defense tips given by the two featured self-defense instructors could perhaps be misleading if not properly understood.

Sgt. Don Harris of the New Orleans Police Department (an instructor in defensive tactics at the city's police academy), was quoted as saying: "Don't challenge anyone who has a weapon. Do whatever you have to do to save your life. It's worth more than whatever monies or possessions you might have to give up. If you're not able to defend yourself very well, don't do it."

I also quote Davis Murphy, an expert in personal security, who teaches self-defense at Mackie Shilstone's Pro Spa: "Give them whatever you can replace. Money can be replaced and your life cannot."

Most of the things in the article that Murphy says I agree with, especially all of the good things one can get from the martial arts. I also agree with the way that Harris trains his police officers and the way that both men believe in stressing the importance of being physically fit.

But there is a very serious side to this self-defense philosophy that cannot be ignored. Both men failed to mention the human factor. This is the idea that there is something inside of us called animal instinct. I teach my students that they should consider the human factor in giving up material things if they believe it will save their life. However, I also believe that if there's that little feeling -- or little voice inside of you telling you that if you give up these things you're still going to die -- then it is better to fight. And if you die? Well, sometimes it's better to die standing than to die on your knees.

Look, there is no nice way to put this. It is your God-given right to fight to preserve your life. As babies being born from the womb of our mothers, we had to fight just coming down the birth canal for the right to live. When you come into this world, you come in fighting. And if someone intends for you to leave this world before your time, then I again say to you, "Fight." Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Suppose I haven't been trained to fight effectively? Then what I would say to you is, "So what?"

If this letter has offended anyone, it was not my intent. I am sure that Harris and Murphy meant no harm. I believe that they are sincere in what they teach and say, and I know that Mackie always has people's best interest at heart. But in light of 9/11, we should never take anything for granted. Staying inside the normal rules of the game in defending yourself could sometimes get you killed. Learn to think outside the box sometimes, and -- at the same time -- find a good self-defense school that can teach you to be more organized in your fight to preserve your life.
-- Kevin Smith
Executive Director
Fearless Tigers Cultural Arts Center

Speaking Out
Thank goodness that Gambit Weekly and Father Tom Stahl have spoken out on the horror of the sex abuse nightmare in the Catholic Church ("Uncommon Candor," March 16). The informal motto of our local Survivor Network of Those Abused by Priests is, "To speak the truth with love." Thank you to the editor and this priest of integrity and courage.
Lyn Hayward


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