Letters to the editor

Don Garland
Arden, N.C.

I   agree wholeheartedly with Leslie  H. Gelb and Anne-Marie Slaughter that the United States needs a Congress that will reassert its war powers and put an end to undeclared wars. A sobering declaration of war should be the first step in supporting future American soldiers. This mechanism is also the only practical implementation of a “just war” policy that we are ever likely to see.

Sadly, the proposal of a law to force senators and representatives to follow the Constitution in this matter is an obvious nonstarter. The solution is the ballot box. Sorry, Hillary Clinton. Sorry, John McCain. I will be looking for other candidates to support.

Jim Wolfe Wood
Stillwater, Minn.

Leslie H. Gelb and Anne-Marie Slaughter are correct: The time has come for Congress to reassert control over the deployment of troops. Perhaps an economic incentive would force Congress to thoroughly vet a future president’s decision to wage war.

Specifically, I propose a war tax that would be automatically imposed when Congress approved the use of force and automatically repealed once the reason for congressional authorization was addressed. Such a tax would force legislators to recognize that a vote to authorize the use of force would place a burden on all their constituents, not just those serving in the military. This awareness would most likely compel Congress to demand a clear strategy, timetable, and exit plan in advance.

Another benefit of a war tax would be that the revenue generated could be directed exclusively toward increasing military pay. This would give our all-volunteer military the financial resources to recruit qualified individuals in the midst of a hot war.

Paul Poast
Department of Economics
Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio

Leslie H. Gelb and Anne-Marie Slaughter reply:

The letters all raise thoughtful and useful points of skepticism, which we ourselves expressed. Two points should be clear, however. First, nothing we propose would stand in the way of the president’s power and need to respond in emergencies. Second, the alternative to doing something along the lines we propose—an effort to take the business of going to war more seriously—is the continuation of a process careless of lives and country.

Lolita

I  was with Mr. Hitchens most of the  way through his masterful and thought-provoking return to Lolita, the book and the girl (“Hurricane Lolita,” December Atlantic). I sipped my milky, hot coffee and sat in the sun, almost purring. His clear writing was an antidote to the slumber party of twelve-year-old girls I had just weathered, and I can guarantee there was nothing sexy about any one of them: orange ink spills on the carpet, generalized shrieking, chomping on Pringles, “ewww”ing to the strains and pornographic snippets of “My Humps” or some such “song.”

I was reminiscing about the Lolita movies, too, as I read along—the sexual indecisiveness of James Mason and the vulnerability of Jeremy Irons (who I doubt could or would seduce a willing flea, at least in that anemic character he inhabited). It’s really the men I focused on in these films; the girls were purely uninteresting—to quote my old English professor, like the creamy surface of a yogurt cup before you dig in.

I jarred to a stop, though, upon reading Hitchens’s line, “Arresting, as well as disgusting, to suddenly notice that Lolita … would have been seventy this year.”

Why are old women so knee-jerkingly “disgusting?” I am telling you that if Humbert Humbert had not thrown a clot in prison, and if he had made it like so many singly driven men to age 100, he would have still been moved by his seventy-year-old Lolita and found “that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth or hoped for anywhere else.” Obsession is obsession. Age has nothing to do with it. He was not a generalized pedophile, for my money, or he would have horned onto her friends at every turn. He was in love. Charles and Camilla—hello?

Mary Jane Gore
Charlottesville, Va.

Advice & Consent

Matthew Quirk’s list of rapidly reconstructed cities (“Cities Rising,” December Atlantic) suggests that agonizing over what new form New Orleans should take is pointless, since it will just be replaced in kind anyway. But the rebuilding imperatives that motivated each of the examples on Quirk’s list are absent in New Orleans. The thriving mercantile cities of Chicago, San Francisco, and Galveston, Texas, were destroyed during the great era of American city-building, and the economic pressure to rebuild them was enormous. Warsaw, Poland, and Tangshan, China, were rebuilt by totalitarian regimes, each for its own reasons. It is not clear that any such imperative animates the rebuilding of New Orleans, other than perhaps a moral one, which is ambiguous at best. (Does it really make sense to put low-income residents at risk again?)

American cities are in a Darwinian struggle for survival. Those that can attract knowledge workers and tourists are prospering, and those that cannot are shrinking. Other than the venerable French Quarter and the Garden District, which are situated on higher ground and consequently were not flooded, much of New Orleans was on the losing end of that survival struggle before Katrina. In the absence of private initiative to rebuild it, only the federal government could marshal the necessary resources. But with Republican voting power in suburban and rural areas, no national urban policy, and a mounting federal deficit, it seems unlikely that anyone can muster the necessary political will.

Matthew J. Kiefer
Jamaica Plain, Mass.

The study highlighted in Primary Sources (December Atlantic) on washing of hands in public restrooms fails because its design is flawed and the data are polluted. Some subjects who ordinarily do not wash their hands were shamed into doing so by the presence of the investigator, tally sheet in hand.

I am among those who do not wash their hands after urinating. Why should I? I don’t urinate on my hands. Furthermore, T. E. Lawrence, who should know, says camel’s urine is antiseptic. Many were the wounds he cleansed in wadis scattered over the Arabian Desert. Why not human piss? Captain Bligh and his loyal crewmen drank urine on their epic sail to safety.

It makes more sense to wash your hands before urinating. Washing your hands after urinating is fetishism.

Charles Perrone
Moorestown, N.J.

P .  J. O’Rourke’s beautiful piece on the new Airbus 380 (“The Mother Load,” November Atlantic) has one minor error: The previous record-holder for takeoff weight is not the Antonov An-124 (similar to our Lockheed C-5 Galaxy) but its beefed-up six-engine version called the An-225. Only one was built before the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and it still flies under the flag of the Russian Federation.

Arthur C. Segal
Springville, Ala.

P. J. O’Rourke replies:

No doubt Arthur Segal is correct about the An-225. On the other hand, we both may be wrong. I have just returned from a holiday accompanied by my wife, two daughters, baby, portable crib, car seat, fifteen suitcases, eight pieces of carry-on baggage, and all the toys the grandparents gave the kids for Christmas. The Boeing 737 upon which we traveled—that may be the heaviest airplane to ever take off.

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