The Conversation

Responses and reverberations

The Ideas List 2012

Readers respond to the magazine’s annual compendium of prescriptions and provocations, presented in the July/August issue.

In “The End of the Checkbook,” Felix Salmon ignores a crucial financial factor while lobbying to eliminate the practice of paying our bills through the mail with paper checks. The U.S. Postal Service is already teetering on the brink of collapse. Eliminating mailed bills and payments would hasten the post office’s demise faster than you could say “Special delivery.” This may already be inevitable, and possibly even welcomed by many. But to ignore this element when discussing the end of the checkbook is to render the argument fatally incomplete. This “big idea” should be marked “Return to sender.”

Dennis B. Appleton
Sister Bay, Wis.

Amanda Ripley, in “Boot Camp for Teachers,” proposed more rigorous preparation for new teachers. To attract bright people into the teaching field who are willing to undergo strenuous training, similar to the training undergone by doctors and pilots, we should be paying our teachers salaries that more closely resemble the salaries we allocate to other professions we value. After all, our teachers train our doctors and pilots.

Helen Cave comment

Regarding Drew Magary’s “Boot the Extra Point”: it will never happen. Why? Score a touchdown: “There’s a time-out on the field”—break for ads. Line up for the point after touchdown: opposing coach calls time-out—break for ads. Kick the PAT—break for ads. Kickoff—break for ads. The NFL will never give up the break-for-ads revenue.

Bob Swain
Appleton, Wis.

I would go even further regarding the idea, proposed by Akhil Reed Amar, to not allow speakers of the House to be president. My rule: if you want to run for president or any significant full-time public office, you have to go all-in and resign your current public office, if any. That should eliminate a few more opportunistic assholes, and keep them focused on what they were elected and are paid to do full-time. Is their current job so easy that they could run for president and be a senator or member of Congress too? Then maybe their current job should be eliminated.

Stephen Samuels
Delray Beach, Fla.


Jeffrey Goldberg took readers inside Chris Christie’s suite at a Bruce Springsteen concert (“Jersey Boys,” July/August), where he pressed the New Jersey governor on why his musical hero won’t give him the time of day.

If Chris Christie thinks there can be an “even playing field” with his repeated cuts to education spending and to social programs that feed the needy and provide them with basic health-care services, while he advocates for the special interests of Big Business over labor and low tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent, he truly doesn’t understand Bruce Springsteen’s message, despite having memorized all his lyrics.

David Keithley
Pompano Beach, Fla.

Chris Christie calls Bruce Springsteen a “limousine liberal,” and his commissioner of human services calls Bruce’s concern for the poor “inauthentic.” Why? Springsteen has never forgotten where he came from, and has a long track record of giving back to that community, both verbally and by supporting food banks, Amnesty International, Asbury Park, and Vietnam veterans. He still lives in New Jersey, and most fans agree that they get their money’s worth for their tickets: Springsteen never plays just a 60-minute show, and sometimes goes for hours. Christie and company seem baffled to encounter a man who hasn’t been corrupted by wealth and power. No wonder Springsteen wants nothing to do with him.

Auden Schendler
Basalt, Colo.


In the July/August issue, Mark Bowden introduced Larry Smarr, a computer scientist who has taken charge of his own health care by charting his every bodily function in minute detail.

Larry Smarr is an inveterate optimist. Optimism is a quintessentially American trait that we all envy and admire. But his optimism is unrealistic. “Once they are armed with the wiring diagram,” Bowden writes, “Larry sees no reason why individuals cannot maintain their health the way modern car owners maintain their automobiles.” I see one very good reason, which is that a vast gulf exists between education and actual behavior change. We’re already armed with excellent information on diet, exercise, and lifestyle—information that’s valid for the vast majority of people, whatever our genomic endowment. We already know we should walk instead of drive, and that we shouldn’t consume all those cheeseburgers and sodas, but we still persist in bad habits, instant gratification, and short-term thinking. Knowing more, and having the benefit of a more personalized prescription for good health, won’t affect the sad reality that knowledge may change, but behavior rarely does.

Brian P. H. Green, M.D.
Thunder Bay, Ontario

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