James Fallows sets forth an interesting tale in attempting to make the case that an economic meltdown looms by 2016 ("Countdown to a Meltdown," July/August Atlantic). Yet although the public sector figures prominently in his crystal ball, he doesn't address what might become of wealthy corporate behemoths like Microsoft, Pfizer, and ExxonMobil, all of which have billions of dollars on hand and would presumably weather a meltdown of the scope Fallows describes. Microsoft and Pfizer, in particular, might not even require a well-maintained public infrastructure so long as the Internet survived—which Fallows says it will. And with gas at $9 a gallon by 2016, ExxonMobil shouldn't do too badly either.
Although I enjoyed James Fallows's mind-walk through a future economic collapse, I was disappointed to see Fallows bow to Washington convention rather than write clearly and simply about U.S.-Venezuelan relations. The United States is deeply hostile to President Hugo Chavez and has been actively seeking to undermine his rule since he took office.
To portray U.S. complicity in a hypothetical future coup as either paranoia or fabrication by Chavez ignores the history of U.S. policy in the region. The likelier scenario is that such a coup—successful or not—would have been fomented or at least well supported by the United States.
New Haven, Conn.
James Fallows's "Countdown to a Meltdown" is doubly discouraging, first for its detailed portrayal of prospective U.S. economic decline and second because the major political players in Fallows's scenario ignore environmental threats.
Will the United States become hostage to oil controlled by Hugo Chavez, and will the U.S. dollar lose 50 percent of its value against the Chinese yuan and the Japanese yen, before our president tells us that aggressively developing alternative energy sources and reducing our dependence on imported oil is an urgent matter of national security? Such a commitment from the largest national consumer of oil in the world (until China replaces us) would affect oil-futures markets immediately.
By burning oil and other fossil fuels we are also increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to levels not seen since the days of the dinosaurs. By 2016 the results will be more obvious than they are today. A policy memo to a would-be president in 2016 that ignores this problem will be woefully out of date and out of touch.
Will the United States become a Third World country because we refuse to recognize environmental realities? Remember the people of Easter Island, who built a high culture on a wood-based economy and then (as Jared Diamond describes in his recent book, Collapse) consumed their island's every last tree. We owe future generations more than that.
Bruce E. Johansen
Professor, School of Communication
University of Nebraska
James Fallows paints a riveting scenario of America's looming economic crisis. I want to focus on a few additional factors that could swing the outcome.
On the plus side, the spirit of invention that spawned so much of America's economic power may yield new energy supplies and energy-saving devices that stimulate an economic boom and ease America's reliance on foreign oil. True, such inventions are increasingly likely to emerge from China and India, but America's inventiveness, combined with its ability to marshal capital in support of technology transfer, could keep the economic dominoes from falling.
On the minus side, Fallows's scenario does not provide for weather catastrophes—earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, floods—that could further destabilize the American economy and diminish foreign investment. Another swing factor is infectious disease, and here Fallows makes reference to avian flu. Let us hope that those who reread this article in 2016 can smile on this reference as a possibility that failed to materialize.
Fallows predicts that a year's tuition at a private college will double in another decade. However, the endowments of the wealthiest colleges should still be sufficient to offset tuition increases and provide need-based scholarships for talented students. Fallows's scenario reinforces the belief that college endowments should be used in part to keep prime educational opportunities available even in the face of harsh economic headwinds.
William E. Cooper
President, University of Richmond
In discussing the Agreed Framework of 1994, Scott Stossel ("North Korea: The War Game," July/August Atlantic) mentions that the United States, South Korea, and Japan were to supply North Korea with light-water nuclear reactors, among other items. He goes on to say that "congressional Republicans attacked the agreement, calling it 'appeasement'"—and that the North Koreans eventually cheated on it. This does not do justice to the history of that situation.
Stossel could have made it much clearer how we landed in our current dire straits had he noted that congressional Republicans did much more than "attack" the agreement rhetorically—they blocked every attempt to make the appropriations required to construct those light-water reactors and slowed the approval of appropriations that were necessary to finance many of the other items that constituted our end of the bargain. The fact is that those reactors never got built.
Stossel might have further noted that the North Koreans did not begin cheating on the agreement until nearly four years later—after it probably became clear to them (as it did to the rest of us who have followed the situation) that the United States would fail to fulfill its part of the bargain as long as Congress was controlled by blindly ideological Republicans. Only after George W. Bush was elected president and effectively blew off the agreement did North Korea again become belligerent.
It's certainly possible that the North Koreans would have cheated on the agreement anyway. But it's also possible that they would have abided by it. It would have cost us only about $15 billion to find out. That's less than what the federal government has spent to bail out the major U.S. air carriers—about $3.00 per taxpayer.
Steven Charles Warren
Americans who are curious as to why Europeans and others are wary of U.S. foreign policy will find the answer in Scott Stossel's article. Although it purported to be a simulation of genuine government discussions, huge areas of the subject were just left out—namely, the politics (or, as one might say, real life).
No one talked about what the people of South Korea or any other U.S. allies in the region, real or potential, might think about American decisions. No one appeared to understand the broader history surrounding the issue. Nor did anyone analyze the structure of the North Korean regime, which was seen as a homogeneous tyranny of bad guys.
We all know that life is much more complex than that. Yet Stossel is keen to convince us that this is how the U.S. government makes its decisions, and to "draw conclusions" from this little exercise. If he's correct, America's allies are right to be nervous.
I haven't slept at all well since reading the conclusions of your panel regarding the future of North Korea. With the fate of so many hanging in the balance, and the Bush administration doing—in my opinion and the opinion of your panel—so little right in tackling the North Korean threat, I'd like to offer another option that, oddly, seems not to have been considered by your team of experts.
What if we were nice to the North Koreans? What if we helped to feed their starving millions, and treated the North Korean people with respect, and calmed their fears by listening to them? Let's not just sign the peace treaty; let's launch the biggest Peace Corps— or Marshall Plan—type operation ever—people to people, in the streets and fields, not across a negotiating table. I know it sounds like a plan from the Pollyanna School of Foreign Policy, but all other options are regularly ruining my beauty sleep. Maybe a little old-fashioned humanity on a large scale is our only hope. Come to think of it, it might just work in Muslim nations, too.
I was halfway through Scott Stossel's discussion of the North Korea war game when I noticed the absence of South Korea. Shouldn't a South Korean have been invited to the game? After all, a war with North Korea would be fought in South Korea and involve lots of South Korean casualties. None of the panelists noted this surprising omission.
The war game also ignored the financial aspect of such a conflict. As James Fallows showed in the same issue, in his article about the future of the U.S. economy, we finance our trade and budget deficits with foreign borrowing, especially from Asia. After a pre-emptive war in Korea, would the Chinese keep lending us all their savings? Would the South Koreans do so if they suffered the 100,000 casualties mentioned in the war game, and had to deal with refugees and rebuilding the North? We might prevail in this conflict only to suffer higher interest rates, inflation, and a severe recession.
All in all, these defense intellectuals look like the sort who got us into Vietnam and Iraq.
Harry I. Potter
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Scott Stossel's article was what was left unsaid, including the following:
1. The defense of South Korea in any war, and the liberation, occupation, and rehabilitation of North Korea, would primarily be the responsibility of the South Korean army, which is large and well trained. The South Koreans speak the same language; they are often related to North Koreans; and they have more interest than anyone else in resolving the situation and reuniting. This South Korean role would reduce any commitment of money and land forces by the United States and other allies. It would also increase the success of efforts to stop rogue exports of remaining North Korean atomic, biological, and chemical weapons and experts.
2. As a highly developed nation with many nuclear reactors, Japan might well be able to develop atomic weapons within months, if not sooner. Japan also has reliable means of delivering them. Whatever weapons North Korea has, its means of delivering them seem suspect.
3. The current U.S. administration has avoided engagement on North Korea, either out of principle or because it prefers an easy target such as Iraq, with its oil. There may be yet another reason. The United States has developed an enormous trade deficit with China, largely financed by the Chinese state banks' ownership of U.S. debt. This has limited U.S. ability to pressure China into applying the rule of law or allowing its currency to float to its natural level. Chinese state banks also have enormous amounts of non-performing loans. If those loans start to be called in, the consequences for the U.S. and world economies would be devastating. Might the U.S. government have already reached an understanding with the Chinese that in return for lack of U.S. pressure on economic policy and other issues, the Chinese will pressure the North Koreans or, if worst comes to worst, use military force against them? After all, the Chinese have a lot to gain, strategically and economically, from such a tacit alliance. Whether a Chinese occupation of North Korea is in anyone's interest is another matter.
Anders I. Ourom
Vancouver, British Columbia
Scott Stossel replies:
David Wilson, Harry Potter, and Anders Ourom all mention something that was also pointed out by military observers and other experts who witnessed the war game: the conspicuous lack of concern for (or even discussion of) the interests of the South Korean people. During the actual war game Jessica Mathews did—some time into the proceedings—note this omission, pointing out how strange it was that the panel was discussing whether we could countenance the destruction of Seoul without reference to how the South Koreans themselves might feel. Surely the limitations of the war-game format were partly responsible—in the short time available to discuss myriad issues and scenarios, inevitably some important topics (including the broader historical context, as Mr. Wilson points out) were left aside. Still, it was striking how little the participants discussed the South Koreans—whether as victims of a nuclear assault, as co-combatants in a ground war, or as potential troops in a postwar peacekeeping operation. Perhaps this does indicate a certain myopia on the part of the American foreign-policy establishment.
How could Mark Bowden have interviewed Paul Wolfowitz (of all people!) at length ("Wolfowitz: The Exit Interviews," July/August Atlantic) without pressing him for the real reasons for our going to war in Iraq? In their "wide-ranging" discussions much is made of the iniquities of Saddam Hussein, the WMD issue, and the vagaries of strategic intelligence. But nothing is said of the obvious long-term advantages to the United States of installing a friendly government in that oil-rich and strategically located country. To say nothing of Israel's security interests. Or the domestic political gains for the Bush administration. Either Mark Bowden was taken for a ride or he hopes to do as much for readers of The Atlantic.
I wish the editors to know that I subscribed to The Atlantic specifically because I was so positively impressed by one article: Mark Bowden's interview with Paul Wolfowitz. It really stands out as a piece of objective, balanced, and fair-minded journalism, neither pulling its punches nor following any particular party line.
James D. Woolery
I read and reread Christopher Hitchens's review of Lawrence Rainey's The Annotated Waste Land With Eliot's Contemporary Prose ("A Breath of Dust," July/August Atlantic) without being able to discern what Hitchens thought of Rainey's book or why he feels that Eliot's poem is "the most overrated …
In astoundingly contradictory fashion Hitchens knocks Eliot and Pound for the Cumaean Sybil, whose presence somehow "robs the poem" of its "claim … to modernity," though he previously suggested that Eliot was in fact too reliant on the daily minutiae of recent events, a mere "Columbus of the near-at-hand." (It is, I suppose, ironic that Hitchens should borrow a phrase from Saul Bellow in order to lambaste a poet he chides for continual quoting from other sources.) If the topical references don't grab him and classical ones don't either, one wonders what Hitchens would have had Eliot describe.
The realization that Eliot was going through a bad patch with his marriage, Hitchens tells us, is crucial to any understanding of the poem. This is arguably true; at least I don't think anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of the work is unaware that the dialogue in the "Game of Chess" sequence is thought to represent a conversation between the poet and his wife. And while it is odd that Rainey's book fails to mention Madison Cawein's Waste Land, which may have inspired Eliot's title and much of the opening stanzas of his own poem, a comparison shows us pretty clearly that a general idea of something, however interesting, is not to be mistaken for its realization. To put it bluntly, if Cawein was there first, Eliot was there better.
Hitchens wonders why "a pious Christian" like Eliot should feel "impelled to exhaust himself in the invocation of darkness and despair." Whatever the answer may be, a glance over the writings of his near contemporaries suggests that Eliot had a lot of company. Hilaire Belloc, J. K. Huysmans, G. K. Chesterton, and Evelyn Waugh (who quoted The Waste Land frequently) all made an initial reputation for nightmarish satire before retreating into a not always convincing nook of Catholicism. Regardless of one's beliefs, is it really so surprising that those who have gazed into the bottomless pit might retreat toward faith?
Hitchens is eager to take Eliot's later dismissal of the poem as a damning indictment of it. In fact, Eliot's second thoughts may be nothing more than an aging Catholic artist's refutation of his earlier pagan work. A similar thing befell Aubrey Beardsley, who found God during his final illness and spent his last pathetic days imploring his friends to destroy all his "ungodly" pictures. Were we to base our estimations of art solely on what the artists themselves thought at any given moment, our experience of art would be grossly circumscribed.
Strangest of all, apart from a pair of tacked-on jibes at the end of the essay, Hitchens never really gets around to telling us what irks him about the poem. "What critic," he asks, "has ever succeeded in getting any sense or any beauty out of the final pages?" Well, if you're not going to bother with specific criticisms, the ad verecundiam question deserves an ad verecundiam reply: I, personally, have never had any trouble getting plenty of beauty and sense out of those pages.
Hitchens's other gripe—"In what conceivable universe … is April the cruelest month?"—is right up there in its freakish literal-mindedness with Kingsley Amis's bizarre reading of the opening verses of Poe's "To Helen," where he mocks Poe for comparing Helen's face to "a lot of broken down old boats" (sic). This is a bit like claiming that Picasso was a bad painter because he put both eyes on one side of the nose in that portrait.
Clarity, directness, and full integration of purpose are qualities laudable in statesmen and the journalists who report on them. They are not, however, necessarily the most important aspects of poetry. Language in art can be valued for other, less immediate reasons. Because something is obscure or partial does not make it untrue.
David V. Griffin
I should say this right off: Eliot makes me grumpy too. I always start my undergraduate survey of modern American poetry with whoever happens to be the U.S. poet laureate at the time and work backward toward Eliot, with the overt intention of loosening the stranglehold he continues to have on poetry in the academy and the covert hope that I'll never get to the misogynistic, anti-Semitic, fascist-leaning, England-worshiping old genius at all. But somehow, come the last weeks of class, I always do, and thus my sophomores and juniors learn some of the following:
1. Eliot's choice of title for The Waste Land was not a theft from but an homage to the music-hall/burlesque tradition from which the poem grew. The Waste Land was originally titled He Do the Police in Different Voices. It was a savage comic satire. Hitchens claims that Madison Cawein, the American author of a poem called Waste Land (published in Poetry magazine), a "Kentucky blues man and a barroom versifier," was "as distant from Eliot, in poetic terms, as it was possible to be." Plain wrong. Pound's editing disguised the barroom-style origins of Eliot's poem, though not entirely: one of the best-loved sections of the poem, Lil's monologue, takes place in a bar and retains the comic edge of the original version.
2. In Pound, Eliot was blessed with a superb editor. Far from making changes for the worse, as Hitchens asserts, Pound—surprisingly enough—cut the original satire in the direction of conciseness, tact, and restraint.
3. Biography is interesting and sometimes helpful in coping with a poem. But the job of a poem is not to serve as biography. Hitchens seems miffed that Pound, by editing out some of the misogyny, excised lines that are "essential to an understanding of Eliot" and have "a very direct connection to the distraught marital relations that, among many other pressures, kept his nerves on a knife edge while he was composing the poem." Truly, Hitchens is the first reviewer I have ever known to assert that the purpose of an artwork is to serve up the artist's backstory.
4. The Waste Land is flat-out gorgeous. Its despair is the florid luxury of a writer at the end of his youth: he was thirty-eight at the time of its publication, and the poem almost smells like teen spirit, to borrow a line, which is why so many undergraduates love it even without their teachers' telling them to. Hitchens's rhetorical question "What critic has ever succeeded in getting any sense or any beauty out of the final pages?" has an easy answer: dozens. Shouldn't Hitchens have read some of them?
5. That there really was a song called "The Shakespearian (sic) Rag" (a few lines of which Eliot paraphrased) is announced in one of The Waste Land's famous footnotes as far back as the 1988 Ellman and O'Clair edition of The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Hitchens says that he found this tidbit "astonishingly interesting to discover" in the 2005 book under his scrutiny.
6. Eliot is literally accurate (as well as metaphorically sound—for the depressed, at least) in saying that "April is the cruelest month," a statement that Hitchens believes couldn't be true in any "conceivable universe"—"even the batty, sinister one of Ezra Pound." It is certainly true in the universe of the university, where evidence both hard and anecdotal shows that traffic to the counseling center is particularly intense during that month.
Many years ago (in the 1950s, I think) Professor William Troy entered the New School auditorium, on 12th Street in New York, to give his annual lecture on T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Since he was a favored scholar in that little world at the time, the silence was appalling; we knew he would read the entire poem before explaining it to us, and that alone would make being there worthwhile. He staggered slightly as he neared the podium, but there was only a moment's pause before he began to read. "April," he said sonorously, "is the cruelest month." I was very young; if I had somehow been sent back to ancient Greece to witness a performance of a play by Euripides, I could not have been more impressed.
After he read the poem, banging the last "shantih" with a dental t, he began to interpret the poem line by line. "Why," he asked, "is April the cruelest month?" We had all been wondering. He gazed at us sympathetically, and then he said, "Statistics appear to show that! There are more suicides in April than in any other month." A buzz of astonishment greeted this remark. Ancient Greece fell away at that moment, and the rest of the afternoon does not appear in my memory.
Many such things were said about the poem, and it is hard to blame the critics; it was their business to take almost everything seriously. But Hitchens is wrong to make fun of that opening, because the first two sentences are the only ones that make a bit of sense in terms of the all-but-missing logic the poem has; they introduce us to the medieval land of the Fisher King, the one who has suffered a grievous wound to his middle, as a consequence of which the land has been infertile for years or maybe decades. In April, when the snow begins to melt and the winter that kept us warm begins to wane, one can see again that the dead land will not bear, breeding only lilacs out of it and a few dried tubers. From that logical beginning it's … "Marie! Marie! Hold on tight!" and down we go.
Why the poem had such a grip on several generations perhaps only the sociologists can figure out—something to do, perhaps, with that war we lived through but, too young, did not participate in; the atomic bombs (both of them) that fell on Japan; our shared fright that there wasn't much time left. The poem had so much sheer, booming resonance, stated in such immaculate periods, that it didn't seem to matter much that no one could understand it. But then, there was Prufrock. Wasn't there?
I quite enjoyed Christopher Hitchens's essay on Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time ("A Doomed Young Man," June Atlantic). But I was surprised that Hitchens neglected to mention a couple of other literary legacies of Lermontov's semi-autobiographical "hero."
Not only is Pechorin a kind of forerunner of oblomovshchina, the literary movement of the "superfluous man," named for the "hero" of Ivan Goncharov's novel Oblomov, but Ian Fleming slyly cited Pechorin as an influence on the development of his greatest creation, James Bond, when he had M tell 007 in From Russia With Love that Tatiana Romanova, a clerk in the Soviet Union's Ministry of State Security, fell in love with him after reading its file on him, because he "reminded her of the hero of a book by some Russian fellow called Lermontov."
Could Cristina Nehring ("Fidelity With a Wandering Eye," July/August Atlantic) please share the phone numbers of those wild, lascivious lady tramps? I rather have a feeling that they are like space aliens: you hear and read an awful lot about them, but you never seem to meet one in person!
Nehring's article strongly implies that women have a sex drive and that it is equal to or greater than that of men. Speaking from thirty-five years of practical experience, I can say with certitude that nothing could be further from the truth. Of course women do have sex, but not just for the sake of having sex, as men do. Rather, women use sex to get something else they want. Generally what women want is one of the three Ms: money, monogamy, or marriage (in which case the sex comes to a screeching halt as soon as the wedding cake is cut).
The litmus test that manifests the vast difference in the sexual appetites of men and women lies in the question How many times have you turned down opportunities to have sex (especially of the opportunistic, one-nighter variety)? On this question the "sex drive" of a woman can be fairly described as "No, No, Nanette."
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Cristina Nehring's summation of evolutionary psychology and what she perceives as its general insult to women is oversimplified and inaccurate. According to Nehring, evolutionary psychologists would have it that "girls are made to sit in the straw and warm their eggs; guys are made to fly through the heavens and spread their seed." Many evolutionary psychologists do indeed suggest that evolution favored men who indiscriminately spread their seed, but their explications of that selection process certainly do not use the exalted language of Nehring's account. Evolutionary psychologists also explore how mental dispositions such as the human conscience evolved and balanced out the uglier aspects of the sex drive. Eminent thinkers in the field, such as Robert Wright, Daniel Dennett, Martin Seligman, and Steven Pinker, spend a good deal of time laying out the complex workings of the mind, and they all seem quite forward-thinking in their views on gender and sexuality. I suspect that all these writers would agree wholeheartedly with Nehring's conclusion that we are "erotic and emotional animals," and that sharing those inclinations with our partners will enrich our intimate relations. Understanding our animal nature is what evolutionists do, and they offer wise counsel about overcoming the uglier aspects of it. Nehring dismisses them too readily and unfairly.
Cristina Nehring replies:
David Colbert is unfooled by all the malarkey about female libido. He has thirty-five years of celibacy to prove it's a lie. How often, he demands, have "you" had casual sex? At the risk of appearing to speak for others, I'll answer: Never.
But women have dangerous sex; intemperate sex; ill-judged, emotionally explosive, quixotic, and predictably disastrous sex. It's casual sex that is the oxymoron.
Overgeneralizing is as risky as undergeneralizing is dull. But the point of my article was this: Sex is important to women. Love is important to women. It's for precisely this reason that they—that we—are more easily disappointed by it, more often driven (as statistics now show) to leave marriages, to start over, to search further.
There are, of course, members of my gender who bed their neighbors as lightly and brightly as Colbert would wish—even if they do not choose to do so with him. But for many women sex at its best means something more than itself—though it does not necessarily or even frequently mean marriage and security. If it did, there would be no Anna Kareninas or Madame Bovarys. And there are a hell of a lot of Anna Kareninas and Madame Bovarys. One could even say they are the quintessential female type of the modern novel—indeed, of the modern age.
Sex for women is adventure. Or it is illumination. Or it is suspense. Or it is love. Or it is life change. High expectations bring high rates of disillusionment. It is for this reason that women are not only often more vulnerable than their male counterparts but also more volatile. And this despite the claims of evolutionary psychologists, as mentioned by Scott Parsons.
It's not that I discount the testimony of the specialists he cites; it is merely that I believe, as Hamlet said, that "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy"—or in our psychology, Mr. Parsons. As for putting this testimony into language other than that which the specialists would use themselves, I should hope I do! It is one of the few liberties (and duties) of a writer to put hazy consensuses into words more arresting—and more compromising—than do those who pass them off.
Charles C. Mann's "The Coming Death Shortage" (May Atlantic) was dismayingly typical of our society's hostility to old people who seek to prolong their lives.
First, Mann is undoubtedly correct that many middle-aged adults are eager for their parents to kick off and leave them a windfall. I urge every old person to ask himself, "What is a better use of my hard-earned money—to keep myself alive or to provide riches to adult children who have done nothing to earn them and who are so selfish and so unloving toward me that they value my money more than my life?" Moreover, if Mann is so concerned about inequity, he should be more critical of inheritances, surely a major source of economic inequity in our society.
Mann's views about longevity and the workplace trap the elderly in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario. If they retire, they raise the "dependency ratio" of retirees to workers. If they hold on to their jobs, they are "blocking the door" to opportunities for the young—and are "usually less productive." But a society that is technologically advanced enough to greatly extend longevity is apt to be able to extend health and productivity as well. And tying employment to productivity rather than to seniority is a more humane way of increasing job opportunities for the deserving than is condemning the elderly to unnecessarily early death.
Mann's view that it is "fundamental to human existence" that "every quarter century or so children take over from their parents" should be seen in light of other things that have been considered fundamental to human existence, such as slavery and the subjugation of women. Progress means change.
Felicia Nimue Ackerman
Professor of Philosophy
Charles Mann doesn't consider the impact of technology that will allow our minds to survive death. Grandma may die at age 132 in 2097 but live on in a device that has recorded her memories and thought patterns. She may download herself into a new body. She may transfer abridged versions of herself into the minds of those heirs willing to put up with an added voice in their heads in return for a share of her wealth. It sounds like cheap science fiction, but in the next 100 to 150 years we will figure out how consciousness works—how the brain gives rise to the mind—and we will replicate this process. Our laws and philosophies will change. We will need to redefine what makes a person and determine the rights of transferred minds.
Mann worries that the undying old will squeeze out the young. But a world of portable minds will be more turbulent than a simple gerontocracy. The old will turn themselves into the young. The young will buy plug-in chunks of experience. And amid the tumult we will begin to defeat the wastefulness of mortality, whereby each death wipes out a lifetime of knowledge, wisdom, and emotional ties.
Studio City, Calif.
Charles C. Mann replies:
Felicia Ackerman says that my views "trap the elderly in a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' scenario." Actually, these are not my views so much as the views of economists whom I quoted. But I suspect that "tying employment to productivity," as Ackerman suggests, would not resolve the dilemma they perceive. A sudden increase in the pool of potential workers will lead to more competition for employment, no matter how jobs are awarded. As for her larger point, the world indeed changed when life expectancy climbed from forty-seven to seventy-seven. Although the change was wonderful for most individuals, the resulting population boom is widely believed to have played a role in the twentieth century's appalling record of war and environmental calamity. The point of my article is that most economists who have pondered the consequences of a continued increase in lifespan believe there will again be a downside.
An older society is not necessarily an unhealthier one. I guess this would be even more true if Rick Rosner were correct that we will soon be able to download ourselves into new bodies. One can only imagine the frustration of the younger generation, though, if that came to pass.
Mark Steyn's column on Owen Allred ("The Marrying Kind," May Atlantic) perpetuates an unfortunate stereotype. Members of the group most commonly known as Mormons—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—are forbidden to practice polygamy, and have been since Wilford L. Woodruff, president of the church in 1890, issued what is now known as "Official Declaration 1." OD-1 is treated as scripture by the LDS Church, and is in fact included in the scriptures sold by the church's printing-and-distribution service.
As Steyn points out, Allred was excommunicated from the LDS Church in 1942. At that point, by definition, Allred ceased to be a Mormon, and it's misleading to label him as such.
For many people in the world, polygamy is no laughing matter but an accepted form of marriage. Americans need to learn that the customs of "the others" have been adopted for good reasons, which need to be discovered before a custom is condemned or sneered at.
Traditional polygamy is clearly superior to the "serial polygamy" practiced in the West, in which each successive wife is cast out, often with her children, to fend for herself. The situation of the first wife in a polygamous marriage is a good deal more secure and emotionally satisfying than that, and she is spared the psychological and social trauma of divorce.
Rev. Mtumiki Njira
Derdepark, South Africa
According to Wayne McNulty (Letters, July/August Atlantic), a quick search on the Internet suggests that France gives citizenship to anyone born in the country. No. My husband was born in Morocco, at the time a French dependency; I'm American; and our children were born in France. We've spent the past six months, as we try to get our children's French identity cards renewed, trying to find proof that at least two of their ancestors were born in France. This is because of the so-called "Pasqua Laws," which were passed to prevent North African immigrants' children from automatically becoming French. On the other hand, my children are American because I'm American; and after being declared at the American embassy in Paris, they have been treated as American citizens. I agree with Christopher Hitchens ("On Becoming American," May Atlantic)—the United States is generous in awarding citizenship.
The best part of my flight to California this summer was that I was able to buy a copy of the August fiction issue at the newsstand. I was reminded yet again of how much I miss the fiction in my favorite monthly magazine. Please, please consider bringing it back! It seems a tease, a torturous whetting of the appetite, to have articles about "good fiction writing" and book reviews on good fiction writers, and yet no actual fiction!
We've been readers of The Atlantic for almost seven years now, and don't plan to give up our subscription, because we love the magazine. But we sorely miss the bit of fancy and escape that the short stories provided.
Sugar Land, Texas
Any article describing the virtues of kosher beef that does not address the long-standing controversy regarding methods of restraining cattle for ritual slaughter is incomplete at best ("The Kosher Conversion," by Corby Kummer, May Atlantic).
Although there have been great advances in recent years, kosher (and also Islamic) slaughter has long involved very great cruelty, despite ancient laws that mandate humane treatment. Jewish and Islamic leaders have successfully argued that laws forcing compliance with humane-slaughter regulations would interfere with religious freedom. Critics of cruel religious-slaughter practices have sometimes been accused of anti-Semitism.
The problem has its roots in the collision between well-meaning civil sanitary laws, which require that an animal be suspended—"shackled" by a chain around a hind leg—before it is bled out, and ancient, well-meaning religious rules against the slaughter (by bleeding) of an unconscious animal. Humane-slaughter regulations require that the animal be stunned before shackling. Cattle shackled for religious slaughter while fully conscious, terrorized and in great pain, often struggle violently. This is particularly the case with the heavy bulls favored by religious buyers; a federal inspector once told me he could not understand how, given the animals' wild struggles, the shackled legs of some bulls and oxen did not pull off! A worker told me that some animals suffocated from the weight of their paunch on their lungs before they could be safely approached.
While it is evident that modern humane restraint systems—particularly the one designed by Temple Grandin—have greatly reduced shackling in American kosher plants, I am told by cattle dealers that it is still practiced in some older facilities. Shackling is also reportedly standard in South American kosher plants that export beef to the United States and elsewhere. Since only the forequarters are used for kosher purposes, much meat from ritually slaughtered animals goes into the general beef supply.
Since age eight I have raised and had slaughtered, as humanely as I could arrange, many head of cattle. Most of the animals I have liked as individuals, and not a few I have loved. (I have worked in the woods with oxen who sometimes had a better idea of how to accomplish a task than I did.) And while I strenuously object to the way cattle are too often mistreated, I reject as well the logic of extreme animals' rightists who, in effect, would rid the world of these wonderful creatures.
The last photo in the series by Christopher Morris (Photo Op, July/August Atlantic) was incorrectly identified as depicting a scene in Washington, D.C. The location was Omaha, Nebraska.
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