Letters to the editor

Who Indeed?

John Sellers's "Who Will Win the Nobel Peace Prize?" (The Odds, November Atlantic) misidentified the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as the sitar player Ravi Shankar. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the founder of the Art of Living Foundation and the International Association for Human Values, both nonprofit NGOs affiliated with the UN. I've volunteered for various projects of these fine organizations.

Chris Smythe-Macaulay
Washington, D.C.

John Sellers replies:

Because the Nobel Foundation cannot, by its own statutes, release the names of nominees until fifty years after the fact, it is difficult to determine whether someone has been nominated or not. Any of the people or organizations that are eligible to nominate candidates may announce on their own whom they have nominated, but very few do so. There is plenty of documented speculation that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was nominated, but no one, to my knowledge, has officially come out and said so. Meanwhile, it was also reported in the press that the sitarist Ravi Shankar was nominated. It is quite possible that both esteemed Shankars were nominated, or that neither was. We won't know for certain, however, until 2055. Which, of course, makes the Nobel Peace Prize all the more thrilling to bet on.

True or False?

Tyler Cabot omitted a critical piece of evidence in his discussion of Saint "Padre" Pio ("The Rocky Road to Sainthood," November Atlantic). The Reverend Carlo Maccari, who alleged in a 1960 Vatican report that Padre Pio had had sexual relations with female penitents twice a week, later admitted that his accusations were false, and prayed to the falsely accused on his deathbed.

Paul Charles
Jacksonville, Fla.

Tyler Cabot replies:

The assertion that Maccari recanted on his deathbed has never been substantiated by objective sources. The claim seems to have originated in The Voice of Padre Pio, a Capuchin magazine read by followers of Pio and published by the friary where he once lived as a Capuchin monk, and where he is now entombed and celebrated.

Pio was an unusually controversial figure in life—as beleaguered by allegations of impropriety as he was revered for his supposed mystical powers. And as Paul Charles's letter amply demonstrates, he remains a controversial figure in death.

Tongue Tied

I read with interest the article by Emily Bazelon ("What Would Zimbabwe Do?") in the November Atlantic. I was, however, taken aback by her comment in the last paragraph, where she refers to laws that "limit free speech in Canada." As a citizen of Canada, I am unaware that my free speech is limited, and I wonder whether Bazelon would care to elaborate. I would not like to continue to voice my opinions so openly if I am contravening legal statutes.

Sharon Coulter Nichol
Fairmont Hot Springs, B.C.

Emily Bazelon replies:

Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms treats as "fundamental" the rights to free speech and freedom of the press. But the charter makes these rights subject to "such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." In other words, Canadian free-speech rights have a built-in check. In some contexts the country's courts have interpreted the charter to allow for more suppression of speech than American law permits. In 1990 Canada's supreme court upheld a law barring hate speech. In 1992 the court adopted a relatively broad definition of obscenity, including material that exploits sex in a "degrading or dehumanizing" manner. And in 2002 a lower court outraged some civil libertarians by finding a man guilty of violating Saskatchewan's Human Rights Code after he placed an advertisement in a local newspaper. The ad was for a bumper sticker. It cited (without quoting) biblical passages that condemn some homosexual acts and showed two male stick figures holding hands, standing in a circle with a slash through it.

Apologies Due

The December 2005 issue of The Atlantic Monthly features a review of Yael Hedaya's latest novel, Accidents. I was pleased to find in your publication a very thoughtful review of the work of this overlooked author. However, as the translator of the novel, I was disappointed to see that not only was my name not credited, but there was no mention at all that this novel is a translation. Neglecting to credit the translator, without whom most of your readers would not be able to read the book, is an unfortunate oversight that reflects a general lack of awareness of the art of literary translation. Literary translators invest a great deal of time and creative energy to expose English-speaking readers to works they would not otherwise have access to, and their efforts should be recognized.

Jessica Cohen
Seattle, Wash.

The Editors reply:

Our most sincere apologies to Jessica Cohen, who should certainly have been credited in the review. For lovers of literature and knowledge around the globe, she and her colleagues perform an invaluable service in the exercise of their art.

Advice & Consent

Regarding "Things Left Undone," by Richard A. Clarke (November Atlantic): "Perfect" response to large-scale disasters is as improbable as a baseball team's batting 1.000. And the "misses" are human tragedies. FEMA, as its name implies, is designed to "manage" an emergency, and it cannot be expected to protect every citizen against being hurt.

But can a crisis be prevented? In most cases, yes. The scenarios that unfolded after Katrina's landfall were predictable and preventable, even if the storm itself was not.

First, flooding in New Orleans started well after Katrina had passed and could certainly have been averted. The floodwall design on the 17th Street Canal was an obvious weakness, and the possibility of its failure should at least have been considered. Mitigation would have been as easy as installing relatively inexpensive floodgates at the entrances of each canal into Lake Pontchartrain or the Intracoastal Waterway. Once closed, they would have effectively prevented the backflow of the lake through a canal breach. The levee boards and the Army Corps of Engineers had plenty of money, but not enough foresight or commitment. A fatal mistake!

As for the evacuation, to say that it was botched is an understatement. The death toll would have been beyond imagination if the storm had moved thirty miles farther to the west and left in New Orleans the type of destruction that was found in Mississippi. No effective response to such a scenario is imaginable other than preventing it in the first place by executing a perfect evacuation.

A perfect evacuation would be difficult but not impossible. It would certainly be far easier to achieve than a "perfect response," and far more effective than plucking hapless stragglers from rooftops with helicopters. Plans would have to be detailed down to the level of the individual citizen. Every citizen could be assigned a time to leave and a place to go after the evacuation is called. Rolling police barricades, emergency programming for traffic lights, and color-coded window stickers for cars could aid in traffic control. Before the start of hurricane season every citizen could be issued a "hurricane wristband" with bar-code information for identification and emergency-aid authorization. Activated by ZIP code when the evacuation is ordered, it could revolutionize the supply of goods to evacuees by outsourcing emergency assistance to selected partners like Wal-Mart and Target. Fraud, waste, and hassle would be eliminated. And nobody would be lost, since the bar-code readers would track people's movements.

Can a city the size of New Orleans afford to go through an evacuation process like this each time it comes within the seventy-two-hour landfall probability cone of a hurricane? It cannot afford not to.

Rudi Schnur
Jarreau, La.

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