I was disappointed in Joshua Green’s lack of skepticism concerning Unity08 (“Surprise Party,” January/February Atlantic). For one thing, many issues are so complex and difficult that a simple “video answer” from a candidate is not sufficient—particularly Iraq, a situation for which the Unity08 members, according to their own Web site, have no plan and no solution. Soldiers are dying for an unnecessary war built on deceptions, yet what is Unity08’s top priority? Lobbying reform.
Moreover, there are already at least two third parties—the Greens and the Libertarians—that have committed, over the past several decades, to building genuine alternatives. Regardless of what one thinks of these parties, they have taken clear stances and have clear philosophies. By contrast, Unity08 members have nothing in common; we don’t know where they stand on most issues, because there is no platform. Apparently one will magically appear in 2008, after the candidate is chosen. If a candidate is chosen. Maybe.
It’s a clever choice on the part of the Unity08 founders: Take no stance on difficult issues, and more people will sign up. It’s likely, though, that as soon as Unity08 selects a candidate, at least a third (if not more) of the “partys” support will disappear overnight, because of the candidate’s stance on issues like gay-and-lesbian rights, abortion, Iraq, the minimum wage, environmental law, and so on. Some might say this proves the Unity founders’ point about excess partisanship. I say, rather, that it’s the attempt of a group of has-beens to make themselves relevant again by deceiving people.
Iowa City, Iowa
A charter-school proponent contends that the changes in New Orleans’s schools (“Reading, Writing, Resurrection,” January/February Atlantic) are “the biggest experiment in a system of schools of choice we’ve ever seen,” and for the United States, that may be true. But in the early 1990s, New Zealand, under a program called Tomorrow’s Schools, abolished attendance zones and allowed parents to apply to any school, anywhere in the country. Once students were admitted, tuition, in the form of quasi-vouchers, followed them to their schools of choice, including parochial schools.
Initial enthusiasm turned to disillusionment, however, when the best schools quickly filled up and began turning away hard-to-teach students. Those rejected—disproportionately poor and minority—were forced by default to return to their schools of origin, which became significantly more polarized along ethnic and socioeconomic lines.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Virginia Postrel makes some interesting observations about passenger flight, past and present (“Up, Up, and Away,” January/February Atlantic), but she misses some of the qualities that made flying “glamorous” in the golden age.
Danger, both the sense and the reality of it, was part of the glamour. This was still a time when even the best planes sometimes fell out of the sky. The largest airliners in those days were tiny, compared with modern jets. The reciprocating engines that powered these birds were as reliable as anyone could make them, but every now and then one of the thousands of banging, slapping, jiggling parts broke down.
Those airliners did not fly very high, either. The maximum ceiling of the DC-6 was 25,000 feet, and the plane usually cruised at a much lower altitude. One of my most vivid memories is of flying—en route from Lima, Peru, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—not over but alongside the towering peaks of the Andes. You did not fly above the weather; you flew through it—and sometimes the weather won.
Even the act of taking off in those days added to the sense of adventure, mystery, and danger. The cabin door closed, and the engines coughed and choked themselves to life. The pilot cranked up the rpm, the engines roared defiance at the sky, and the craft itself quivered and strained against the brakes. Finally the pilot released the brakes, the plane lumbered down the strip, and then it groaned its way into the air.
Now that, my friend, was glamour.
Paul W. Moomaw