Contents | June 2004
The Atlantic Monthly | June 2004
Letters to the Editor
s one of the early advocates of the Human Genome Project (I helped establish the first HGP, at Berkeley, California, in 1987), I read Michael J. Sandel's "The Case Against Perfection" (April Atlantic) with great interest. Sadly, his discussion of "designer children, bionic athletes, and genetic engineering" demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of the important results of the HGP that were announced with great fanfare by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2000 and published in 2001 in the journals Science and Nature.
The preponderance of results from the international effort to sequence the three billion nucleotides of the human genome, and hundreds of subsequent studies on the mechanisms of gene expression, have made the prospect of predicting disease propensities and the ability to manipulate genetic traits far less likely than Sandel projects. This is particularly true where complex traits such as intelligence, physical characteristics, cognition, and behavior are involved. Sandel uses scenarios for which there is little scientific support. It is now apparent that each gene may yield several thousand expression variants. The DNA gene is an essential component of gene expression, but it is clearly not deterministic, as Sandel and his science-challenged colleagues on the President's Council on Bioethics reflect in their various official publications. Sandel uses scenarios from a science-fiction movie to bolster his view of reality. He has distorted facts: for example, the cloned sheep Dolly did not "die a premature death"; it was euthanized because of an arthritic condition that is not uncommon in sheep of that breed and age.
Sandel claims to be "troubled by genetic engineering for stronger bodies, sharper memories, greater intelligence, and happier moods." His construct and other fears are so remote as to raise questions about his motives in raising these scientifically unsupported scenarios. The council's publication Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness contained statements implying that it was now possible to create designer babies with specific complex traits. Elizabeth Blackburn, of the University of California at San Francisco, who was purged from the council, and Janet Rowley, of the University of Chicago, requested that these unscientific statements be modified to reflect the fact that no such possibility was in hand or available in the near term. Their request was rejected.
Like his colleagues on the council, Sandel is obviously motivated to convert nonbelievers to accept the role of supernaturalism in our work and lives. Indeed, Sandel and the council are so intent on securing a role for supernaturalism that they have purged the membership of anyone who does not share their religious beliefs. What is particularly egregious is that they are using federal funds and resources to achieve this purpose as well as suppressing, distorting, and misrepresenting facts to implement their proselytizing efforts.
Paul H. Silverman
University of California
he big problem is that Michael Sandel asserts a distinction between ethical "medical" and dubious other uses of genetic engineering, without ever attempting to provide a principled distinction. I doubt that there is one. At what point should low mental function cease to be a glorious example of the diversity of life and become a tragic accident? "Normal" is nothing more exalted than acceptance of the inevitable—the pot bearing the marks of its making. Why should any use at all of genetic engineering—as compared with open-heart surgery or modern neonatal care—be regarded as "the one-sided triumph of willfulness"? To whom does the former seem "somehow worse—more intrusive, more sinister"? The problem with the more grotesque applications has to do with "the attitudes and dispositions that prompt the drive for enhancement," which really has nothing to do with particular technologies (think of the grotesque applications of demographics, or of financial-accounting technology), and remains unexamined here.
Of course perfection is to be striven for (no fear it will be achieved). What would the alternative be? The preliminary task is to describe perfection, here in a society of individuals. Sandel isn't helping.
Coos Bay, Ore.
ichael Sandel doesn't reckon with the possibility that parents' willfulness in genetically designing their children will be matched by children's willfulness in resisting their parents' intentions. One can easily imagine a child "designed" to be, say, a basketball player who rebels against a career in sports and the parental pressure that accompanies it, preferring instead to become a poet. Theoretically, of course, the child could be genetically programmed for a compliant nature; but such passivity would detract from the qualities of improvisation and leadership needed to excel in basketball.
The complexity of the genetic underpinnings of talent and temperament, and the still-mysterious interplay between genes and environment in shaping who we are, suggest that attempts to design children for specific purposes are as likely to backfire as they are to succeed.
ichael Sandel presents several dubious arguments against the use of genetic engineering to enhance human capabilities. The most fundamental problem is his false assumption that with sufficient engineering humanity's future would lack enough challenge and uncertainty to sustain our awe of the wondrous world about us. Surely we have ample evidence that genes alone do not determine our future makeup; rather, it is the unpredictable interaction of genes and environment. And isn't it likely that our enhanced capabilities would lead to a greater awareness of what we do not know rather than to a total mastery of all there is to know?
If advances in scientific knowledge pose difficulties for our self-image and our "moral landscape," perhaps our efforts would be better spent in reevaluating the bases of our self-image and moral values than in trying to prevent the application of science to the betterment of humanity. Considering the pace at which scientific advancements are moving on so many fronts, that re-evaluation is urgently needed.
ichael Sandel's real beef is with human nature: we are proud, we favor tall and pretty people, we act our insecurities out on our children, we act selfishly. Taking aim at technology will do little to correct these things. We will continue to modify the natural state of affairs for our own benefit, as we always have. The question is not whether we should presume to improve on the lot we're dealt by nature—we will, because that's what human beings do—but how we use the tools we invent, and what safeguards we put in place to prevent nasty consequences. With obvious exceptions (such as nuclear weapons), we always seem to figure it out eventually. To use an example from Sandel's article, instead of prohibiting genetic testing across the board, the Senate voted to prohibit genetic discrimination in health insurance. It is seldom easy to figure out how to get the benefits of technology while minimizing the bad side effects; but it can be done, and it is a far more productive endeavor than wringing our hands about man's hubris and the "dehumanizing" effects of every new invention that comes along.
Michael J. Sandel replies:
Paul H. Silverman's letter is a farrago of confusion and misdirected ideological ire. He takes me to task for the sins, as he sees them, of the President's Council on Bioethics, a body on which I serve, but for which my article does not speak. He accuses me of proselytizing for the supernatural, of trying to convert nonbelievers to religion, of slandering Dolly the cloned sheep, and, most absurdly, of helping purge from the council my friend and colleague Elizabeth Blackburn, a noted cell biologist who dissented from the majority's vote for a moratorium on cloning for research and regenerative medicine. In fact I, too, was among the dissenters, and was unhappy when President Bush dismissed Dr. Blackburn. Mr. Silverman's suggestion that I had anything to do with this is ridiculous. His accusation of missionary zeal is hardly more credible. Although my article maintains that eugenics and other forms of genetic engineering are at odds with an appreciation of the giftedness of life, I emphasize that this notion does not necessarily depend on religion. As for Dolly, Mr. Silverman is incorrect in saying that she was euthanized because of an arthritic condition. Dolly did have arthritis, but was euthanized because of a virus that caused a tumor in her lung. (See Nature, vol. 421, p. 776.) The source for my statement, disputed by Mr. Silverman, that Dolly died a premature death is a paper by Rudolf Jaenisch, an MIT cell biologist who is one of the world's foremost cloning experts. (The article can be found at www.bioethics.gov/background/jaenisch.html.)
Mr. Silverman's one serious point is that a complex trait like human intelligence is unlikely to yield to genetic enhancement anytime soon. Although this is true, it is nonetheless worth reflecting on what enhancements we should aspire to. Indeed, speculation about the prospect of enhancing IQ has come not only from philosophers but, as my article points out, from leading molecular biologists, including James Watson and Robert Sinsheimer. And some forms of enhancement are far from remote. Of my four primary examples—muscle enhancement, memory enhancement, height enhancement, and sex selection—the last two are already practiced and the first two have been achieved in mice, with research under way on human applications. These are not science-fiction scenarios. Robert Levy and Kenneth Goudreau make the legitimate point that our nature is determined not by genes alone but, rather, by a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Even a designer child, Mr. Levy points out, could rebel against her design and choose a different life path from the one her parents intended. I agree, but nothing in my argument implies that we are genetically determined; on the contrary, I maintain that all strenuous attempts to mold and control our children, whether by genetic, educational, or environmental means, can raise ethical questions.
onathan Rauch's "A More Perfect Union" (April Atlantic) practically begs for arguments. I'll begin by saying that the state has no interest in personal relationships with the exception of heterosexual marriage, because therein lies the next generation of taxpaying citizens. Studies show that two-parent families give children the best chance for a successful adulthood, and it is in the interest of the state to favor such scenarios. Continuing on the personal-relationship thread, Rauch contends parenthetically, "(So much for the idea that marriage is about procreation)"; actually, the law in Arizona that allows first cousins to marry only if one of the cousins "is unable to reproduce" proves the reverse of Rauch's point. Thus in Arizona we see the state banning a relationship that could believably produce offspring requiring a burdensome drain on public resources. Again, it is all about procreation. One's choice of best friend, roommate, or homosexual lover has nothing to do with the state.
Beyond the privacy issue of personal relationships is the issue of yet more entitlements at a time of increasing worry over the number of Baby Boomers nearing retirement age. Must we give tax breaks to two working adults who claim to be homosexual lovers? We're not talking about pregnancy, childbirth, and day-care costs for homosexual lovers. If child custody from a previous heterosexual marriage is involved, let the divorce lawyers work that out. As for hospital visitation, why not have a living will that allows the patient to be visited by his or her significant other? This is a problem for cohabiting heterosexuals, too. The problem is the hospital, not the lack of a marriage certificate.
Rauch wants to experiment with gay marriage to see if it would have any negative effects on society. Apparently, the experiment is already under way in Scandinavia. According to Stanley Kurtz ("The End of Marriage in Scandinavia," in the February 2 Weekly Standard), after a decade or more of "something close to full gay marriage," a majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born to unmarried parents. Kurtz sees the separation of marriage and parenthood that is intrinsic in same-sex marriage as a factor in the out-of-wedlock births. He sees the solidly middle-class socialist states of Scandinavia beginning to feel the financial burden of supporting single-parent children, and worries that the burden will be a crushing one in a country like the United States, with large numbers of undereducated and underemployed citizens. He ends his article with the words "By the time we see the effects of gay marriage in America, it will be too late to do anything about it. Yet we needn't wait that long. In effect, Scandinavia has run our experiment for us. The results are in."
Above all, people should not confuse those who are against same-sex marriage with those who are against gays. Simply put, licensing gay relationships looks like an invasion of privacy, and calls forth a daunting tangle of laws, as pointed out by Rauch himself.
Gail T. Lambert
onathan Rauch makes a detailed argument for state-by-state recognition of gay marriage. But to write that "same-sex marriage neither must nor should be treated as an all-or-nothing national decision" ignores the most compelling reason for gay marriage: equality under the law.
Federal, state, and local governments discriminate. To allow this discrimination to continue in even one state or county is wrong.
The argument that state-by-state legalization of gay marriage would "give the whole country a chance to learn" is misguided and unsupported by history. Although most states removed their sodomy laws from the books decades ago, some states were unable or unwilling to "learn" from the example set until it was forced upon them by the federal government. To think that conservative regions of the country would not become more strongly opposed to gay marriage if liberal regions legalized it is to misunderstand human nature.
The author has confidence in the public's decency and commitment to liberal principles, but I do not, and neither did the Founding Fathers. In fact, the writers of our Constitution feared the tyranny of the masses. A conservative-minded individual who has not been exposed to many or even any gay people cannot judge this issue fairly and should not be allowed to do so.
Rauch argues that a state-by-state approach would prevent a national culture war. Again, history has proved otherwise. Slavery was handled with a state-by-state approach—with the result that the institution became so entrenched that it caused the most violent "culture war" our nation has ever experienced.
The denial of the right of homosexuals to marry is not as despicable as the institution of slavery, but it does have many of the same effects. It marginalizes a large portion of society; it violates the Constitution's promise of equality under the law; and it causes deep emotional suffering. Society does not allow a gay teenager to experience her burgeoning sexuality with the combination of fear and excitement, and the "support of her peers," that a heterosexual teenager has. Few gay teens would feel comfortable taking a same-sex date to the prom, or dating at all while in high school. Growing up gay still involves mortal fear. The straight teen fears rejection; the gay teen fears isolation, injury, and death.
Rauch argues that a state-by-state approach to abortion would have given pro-lifers the comfort of being able to reside in a state that reflected their beliefs. It would also have given the pregnant girls of that state no choice but to give birth to unwanted children. Teen pregnancy does not occur only in liberal families, just as gay children are not born only into gay-friendly families. How truly sad it would be if a gay teen suffered because he was born on the wrong side of a state line. He could move to a gay-marriage state after becoming an adult, but he would have lost the opportunity to grow up without the hatred and intimidation supported by his conservative state. The acceptance offered by his new state would not remove his painful childhood from memory.
Rauch states, "Both sides want something life doesn't usually offer—a guarantee." Gays and lesbians do not expect life to offer them equality. They expect the Constitution to do so—and it can. It already does. Yes, a slice of bread is better than nothing to a starving man. But the right thing to do, the moral thing, is to feed the man not only bread but a full meal. We will probably be stuck with a state-by-state approach to gay marriage, but it will be the more divisive and morally flawed approach.
Los Angeles, Calif.
onathan Rauch's argument suffers primarily from two failures. The first is his failure to note that marriages recognized only by certain states would not be recognized, as heterosexual marriages are, by federal law. Heterosexual marriage confers certain rights and responsibilities at separate state and federal levels. To deny any of these to homosexual couples would be as outrageous as denying them to interracial or any other committed couples. The second is his failure to recognize that marriage, as explicitly articulated by Chief Justice Earl Warren in Loving v. Virginia, is one of the basic civil rights of humankind. As history has shown, the states cannot be trusted with matters of civil rights. To compare civil rights to banking laws, which are handled by the individual states, is beyond fallacious; it is ludicrous. On the grounds of equal protection and due process, the Federal Defense of Marriage Act and the various discriminatory state laws and state constitutional tenets violate the U.S. Constitution; in affirmation of this the federal courts should strike them all down, as the Supreme Court did to anti-miscegenation laws in 1967. States must not be permitted to deny the constitutional rights of particular groups; Americans who support our Constitution should be as horrified by the prohibition against gay marriage as they would be if, for example, some state decided that freedom of speech wasn't all that important anymore. States' rights have their place, but civil rights, which are absolute and non-negotiable, must trump them every time. Freedom, liberty, and justice require this.
ranklin Foer ("Marriage Counselor," March Atlantic) leaves wholly unchallenged (and, indeed, seems almost to endorse) the only argument against same-sex marriage made by Matt Daniels—namely, that we "need good social science" on its effects on heterosexual marriage. Although one might hope that the burden of proof would be on those favoring discrimination, Daniels's premise is backwards in any event. The best, and perhaps only, way to get such social science would be to allow some states to conduct the experiment and then study its effects. Daniels would outlaw the very procedure that would provide the data he claims we need. Lacking any intellectual justification for his opposition to state experimentation in this area, he should have the courage to admit what those on the far right proudly proclaim: they oppose gay marriage because they hate gays. At least that has the virtue of honesty.
ranklin Foer's piece on Matt Daniels, promoter of the Federal Marriage Amendment, prompts these thoughts.
Why not let legislatures redefine all existing government-sanctioned "marriages" as "civil unions" and recognize marriage as a religious matter over which they have no authority? Let states establish procedures and regulations for the formation of civil unions. Let churches establish such rules as they deem appropriate for the marriages they sanction. And let those who want to be "married," whether in the Roman Catholic way, or the Conservative Jewish way, or the Methodist way, or the Latter-day Saints way, or whatever way, go to their respective religious societies and get married—just as they go to pray; to get baptized, confirmed, or bar mitzvahed; to confess sins; or to take communion.
The sacred institution of marriage will then be safely in the hands of the churches, and the rest of us can manage our private lives as we wish.
Gordon E. Parks
aitlin Flanagan has written a piece of tremendous projection ("How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement," March Atlantic). On becoming a mother, she found that she was being stuck with all the work. Rather than engage in disagreeable fights with her husband, she hired a nanny who is also, apparently, a full-time maid. It follows that feminists' efforts to get men to share housework and child-rearing must be inherently hopeless and can succeed only in ruining marriages. (After Alix Kates Shulman wrote her egalitarian marriage agreement, her marriage fell apart. Isn't that proof enough?)
Furthermore, Flanagan and the women she talks to think "day care sucks." It follows that this opinion must be shared by all "professional-class mothers." The naive may think the movement for universal day care was stymied by the ascendance of a conservative politics that abhors social spending, but no: career women actually prefer to exploit immigrants.
In reality, most women in the "professional" category (a large and heterogeneous group that Flanagan seems to equate with wealthy corporate types like Zoe Baird) couldn't afford full-time nannies and housekeepers even if we wanted them. Nor do I know of any feminist who thinks that servants are the solution to women's "double shift." In addition to putting continued pressure on men to do their share, feminist proposals have included curbing the present insane regime (for both sexes) of ten- and twelve-hour workdays, subsidizing parents (of both sexes) who choose to stay home, and building institutions like my daughter's day-care co-op (where teachers of both sexes took care of the kids, and parents of both sexes cleaned the toilets).
To be sure, there can be no serious feminist politics that does not take account of class differences and conflicts among women. But Flanagan invokes class inequality mainly to deny that inequality in male-female relations is also an issue. Having made her own accommodations, she exhorts other women to join her in accepting that aversion to housework comes with the Y chromosome, and in gratefully embracing globalization. She should stick to speaking for herself.
New York, N.Y.
s the owner-operator of an active New York City nanny-placement service for the past thirteen years, I appreciate the excellent social-historical perspective provided by Caitlin Flanagan. However, at the end of her article Flanagan declares that she pays her nanny's share of the required taxes "so as not to short her take-home pay." Did she also explain to her nanny that by so doing, she has upped the poor woman's taxable gross pay? If the nanny needs more take-home pay, pay her more.
A Choice Nanny, NYC
New York, N.Y.
Caitlin Flanagan replies:
Ellen Willis virtuously reports that she sent her daughter to a day-care center founded on risibly egalitarian principles, but she also lets slip that she couldn't afford to hire a nanny. I wonder if she would have been so eager to have her little girl cared for in an institutional setting if she could have had a caregiver look after the child in her own home, where she would have been exposed to fewer illnesses and where she would not have been denied care on days when she was sick (a drawback to day care cited by working mothers of all social classes). Typically, financial restraints rather than philosophical convictions propel women to choose day care instead of a nanny, particularly when infants are involved.
I am grateful that we do not have universal day care. Why should I be taxed to provide child care for the millions of Americans who can easily afford it? What we desperately need in this country is government-funded, needs-tested day care; but we may never get it, because professional-class feminists like Willis—who apparently has access to a marvelous center that not only cares for her child but also helps to inculcate the values she holds most dear—are so eager to get a piece of the pie for themselves.
I hope Joan Friedman is not encouraging her clients to increase their employees' take-home pay in lieu of paying their Social Security taxes. Like all other workers, nannies need forty Social Security credits to qualify for the important benefits the program offers.
enjoyed "How Jefferson Counted Himself In," by Bruce Ackerman and David Fontana (March Atlantic). I was, however, dismayed that they repeat an erroneous historical legend, to the effect that James Bayard, of Delaware, changed his vote to single-handedly give the election of 1800 to Thomas Jefferson. Bayard was a central figure in the election drama, but his personal vote did not directly affect the outcome.
In the then sixteen-state republic, Jefferson needed to carry nine states for a majority in the House of Representatives. As the authors note, the Federalists joined together to vote for Aaron Burr in an attempt to obstruct Jefferson. Each state held one vote, so states with equal numbers of Federalist and Democratic-Republican representatives were split between Jefferson and Burr and thus abstained—effectively a vote against Jefferson. In this way the Federalists were able to hold the vote at eight states for Jefferson, six for Burr, and two abstentions. When it became evident that their strategy could lead to armed conflict, a group of Federalists (encouraged by Bayard) moderated their stance. These Federalists could never bring themselves to vote for Jefferson, so they simply cast "no vote." As the only representative of Delaware, Bayard switched his vote from Burr to "no vote," thereby moving his state into the "abstain" column. South Carolina also moved from "Burr" to "abstain"—but when the Federalists in Maryland and Vermont stopped voting for Burr, those states were carried by the Democratic-Republicans. The final vote was therefore ten states for Jefferson, four for Burr, and two abstentions.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Bruce Ackerman and David Fontana reply:
James Bayard was Delaware's only congressman, and so had the power to give Jefferson the presidency by switching his state's vote in the House runoff. After repeated House balloting led to a continuing impasse, he announced to his Federalist colleagues his intention of voting his state for Jefferson. Here is how he reports their reaction in a letter to his cousin Samuel Bayard:
"I came forward and avowed my intentions of putting an end to the contest. The clamor was prodigious. The reproaches vehement. I procured a meeting—explained myself and declared an inflexible intention to run no risk of the constitution. I told them that if necessary I had determined to become the victim of the measure. They might attempt to direct the vengeance of the Party against me but the danger of being a sacrifice could not shake my resolution. Some were appeased: others furious, and we broke up in confusion. A second meeting was no happier in its effect: In the end however there was a general acquiescence and the whole Party agreed to vote alike, except Mr. Esmonds of Connecticut. His persisting in voting for Burr induced the four New England States to do the same thing. Morris retired [abstained]—Vermont in consequence voted for Jefferson—four members of Maryland voted blank,—the result of the Maryland was the same with Vermont. South Carolina and Delaware voted in blank. As I had given the turn to the election, it was impossible for me to accept an office [Minister to France] which would be held on the tenure of Mr. Jefferson's pleasure."
This account is confirmed by other contemporary sources, and explains the official result accurately reported by Russell Lees. Bayard's decisive role in Jefferson's election is no "myth." On the contrary, the congressman's decision to transcend partisanship in resolving the constitutional crisis makes him an unsung hero of the early Republic.
Department Of Amplification
ohn Calderwood is mistaken about there having been no U.S. occupation of part of Germany after World War I (Letters to the Editor, April Atlantic), and James Fallows conceded this point too readily in his reply. The United States occupied part of the left (west) bank of the Rhine while the Treaty of Versailles was being negotiated. One of the officers involved was General Douglas MacArthur, who entered Germany with a brigade on December 1, 1918, and set up his headquarters at Sinzig, some twenty-five miles south of Bonn. After passing in review before General Pershing at Remagen (near the famous bridge the GIs crossed in 1945), the U.S. troops began departing for home in early April of 1919.
Webster G. Tarpley
eader John Calderwood is incorrect in questioning—and James Fallows too hasty in disavowing—the occupation of Germany by American doughboys after World War I. The United States contributed a significant number of doughboys to occupation duty as part of the demilitarization of the Rhineland. The American Army of Occupation was established on July 3, 1919, and headquartered in Coblenz. The United States maintained 250,000 soldiers there for six months. Thereafter the U.S. presence in the region averaged 15,000 until the AMAROC was abolished, on January 1, 1923. "Records of the American Forces in Germany, 1918-23" are filed in Record Group 120.11 by the National Archives and Records Administration. An "Army of Occupation" campaign medal was struck and issued.
T. J. Moyseowicz
effrey Rosen's interesting and counterintuitive thesis in "John Ashcroft's Permanent Campaign" (April Atlantic)—that the Attorney General has mostly avoided pandering to the forces of social conservatism, following instead the path of political pragmatism—is flatly contradicted by one example to which Rosen gives only the briefest attention: gun control. Rosen says only that Ashcroft prompted "a brief controversy" in a letter he wrote to the National Rifle Association in May of 2001, embracing an individualist interpretation of the Second Amendment. Yet, Rosen says, Ashcroft "continued to enforce federal gun laws." The first is arguably false, the second demonstrably so.
The letter to which Rosen refers was a startling document, because it represented an about-face in Justice Department policy pertaining to the meaning of the Second Amendment—a policy that extended back at least to the Eisenhower Administration—and articulated this abrupt policy change through an informal political communication to a partisan interest group. The position of every past administration, whether Republican or Democratic, on the meaning of the Second Amendment was the same: that the right to bear arms, in the words of Ronald Reagan's solicitor general, Charles Fried, "guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have 'some reasonable relationship to ... a well-regulated militia.'" Ashcroft's individualist view sought for the first time to create a new right to bear arms detached from militia service. This view has been the NRA's constitutional mantra for decades.
Far from retreating from the view expressed in this letter, Ashcroft moved aggressively to implement it, bypassing the vetting process normally followed for Justice Department policy changes. In a subsequent memo sent to all ninety-three U.S. attorneys in November of 2001, Ashcroft directed that the individualist view be adopted as law. In May of 2002 Solicitor General Theodore Olson filed briefs in two cases appealed to the Supreme Court in which he asserted that in the government's eyes, the Second Amendment "broadly protects the rights of individuals ... to possess and bear their own firearms" aside and apart from military service or training. In neither case did the Court take up the matter of this new interpretation of the Second Amendment, although it has endorsed the militia view in four cases—as have lower federal courts in nearly fifty instances. Ashcroft's individualist view continues to be the official view of the Justice Department.
Further, Ashcroft has impeded law enforcement in another area, of greater significance—gun background checks. In June of 2001 he announced a plan to destroy gun-check records after only one day instead of ninety days—a top NRA priority, advanced at the very start of the Bush Administration. Strenuous congressional objections and legal action tied the matter up until January of this year, when an announcement slipped into an omnibus appropriations bill codified the twenty-four-hour rule. (One can only assume that the Bush Administration approved the change.) Worse, beginning in October of 2001 the Justice Department refused to allow the FBI to examine the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) audit log to learn if potential terrorists had tried to buy guns. Before Ashcroft's decision a September 16 request for data on 186 terrorist suspects turned up two "hits" in the NICS data. A check of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms data found that thirty-four crime-connected guns had been purchased by individuals detained in post-9/11 investigations. Despite the zealotry of Justice investigations infringing on other civil liberties, Ashcroft defended this anomalously narrow view pertaining to gun-purchase records (an interpretation contradicted by his own department's previous practices).
However one might assess these decisions and actions of Ashcroft's, they have nothing to do with the picture of political pragmatism painted by Rosen, and everything to do with obeisance to a right-wing extremist group whose views are squarely at odds with sensible law enforcement, not to mention with the views of most Americans.
Robert J. Spitzer
Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, SUNY
Jeffrey Rosen replies:
As a constitutional matter, Ashcroft's individualistic view of the Second Amendment is not limited to a "right-wing extremist group" but has been endorsed by some liberal and moderate legal scholars as well. Moreover, protecting the rights of gun owners is less of a priority for social conservatives than it is for the libertarians who have otherwise opposed Ashcroft's expansion of the national-security state. Therefore Ashcroft's support of gun rights, whatever its constitutional merits, cannot be dismissed as an effort to pander to his social-conservative base.
erry Castle writes, "No contemporary North American reader of Don Quixote can fail to be struck by its surprisingly sympathetic evocation of the world of Islam," and then puts in evidence the sympathetically told tale of Ricote the Morisco. Inconveniently for her case, however, Ricote is a Catholic. The term "Morisco" usually if not invariably refers to Moorish converts to Catholicism rather than to Muslim Moors in Spain. In any case, Ricote's daughter says of him (in Part Two, Chapter LXIII) that he is "a sensible man and a Christian as well" (Samuel Putnam translation). Of herself she says that she is "not one of those pretended or seeming converts but a true believer of the Catholic faith." As for the expulsion of the Moriscos, to which Castle alludes, Ricote says that he and his daughter "in no way sympathize with the plottings of our people, who have justly been sent into banishment."
What I find in Don Quixote—rather than the sympathy Castle finds—is the anti-Muslim equivalent of genteel anti-Semitism. Although Cervantes's masterpiece occasionally provides glimpses of cordiality across the Muslim-Christian divide, it far more frequently offers the sort of casually disparaging comment that Ricote's daughter makes of the Turks in the same chapter: "among those barbarous Turks a handsome boy or youth is more highly esteemed than the most beautiful woman." In historical context Cervantes's comments may be excused. One may even discern a writer who descended to the kind of pro forma prejudice that his readers expected without actually feeling that prejudice himself. Speaking not for all of North America but only for myself, however, I find this no great cause for celebration.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Terry Castle replies:
The meaning of the Ricote episode—and, indeed, of the word "Morisco"—are matters on which intelligent readers of Don Quixote may disagree. (For what it's worth, Edith Grossman defines "Morisco" as "a person of Muslim descent, living in territory controlled by Christians, who had ostensibly, and often forcibly, been converted to Christianity.") True enough: Ricote says that his wife and daughter are "Catholic Christians" and that "though I'm less of one, I'm still more Christian than Moor." But his profession of faith remains a half-hearted and ambiguous one. Cervantes may not have meant us to take it entirely seriously: after all, following the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 by Pope Sixtus IV, any non-Catholic person living in Spain—whether Jew, Moor, or Protestant—could be burned at the stake as a heretic. (Confronted by Torquemada or his heirs, who wouldn't claim to be more Christian than Moor?) But even if Ricote is speaking the truth here, the compassionate portrayal of his plight remains unusual and moving. Christian or not, he has had to disguise himself (on pain of death) as a "German pilgrim" simply to re-enter Spain safely, and Sancho, for one, is shocked and frightened to see him: "Why did you risk coming back to Spain? It'll be very dangerous for you if they catch you and recognize you." As Grossman notes, the years 1609 to 1613—the very period in which the second part of Don Quixote (containing the Ricote episode) was written—saw a pronounced rise in anti-Moorish sentiment across Spain: the Moriscos were regularly accused of continuing to practice Islam in secret and of having a "pernicious" influence on Spanish society. Sancho's good fellowship—which in my view suggests something more than "the anti-Muslim equivalent of genteel anti-Semitism" in Cervantes himself—seems all the more precious under the circumstances.
The Hollow Army
ames Fallows writes in "The Hollow Army" (March Atlantic) that many members of the Reserves and National Guard "signed up with the understanding that they would be 'weekend warriors.'" That is simply incorrect. In my twenty-two years of military service, seventeen years were on inactive duty with the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard. Everyone understands that they can be called up at any time. In fact, the whole purpose and focus of our training was to be ready for call-up. It's not called the "ready reserve" for nothing.
Kenton B. Creuser
Blue Ridge, Ga.
James Fallows replies:
As Kenton Creuser points out, members of the Reserves and the National Guard have always known that they could be called up at any time. But before 9/11 year-long mobilizations for foreign duty were rare. Members of the Reserves and the Guard now make up some 40 percent of the American military presence in Iraq. It is no slight to their service, sacrifice, or status as warriors to say that this is different from what many of them expected when they signed up.
State Of The Union
rancis Fukuyama's "Nation-Building 101" was a very lucid breakdown of what the United States needs to do in order to more efficiently help failed states in which it intervenes.
However, I disagree with his assertion that such an effort needs to be under "clear civilian control" as it proceeds. Any attempt to rebuild a shattered society requires one ingredient more than anything else: physical security. In the chaotic environments that will most likely prevail over the short and medium term in these failed states, physical security is something only the armed forces can provide. Attaching a reconstruction department to the Pentagon would be the best way of ensuring this very basic point. Many of the organizational problems in Iraq seem to be a result less of the Pentagon's running the show than of a bureaucratic war, fought until almost the last minute, for control of the reconstruction phase.
Although control of the office would be exercised through the Pentagon by the Secretary of Defense, the actual membership of the Office of Reconstruction should be overwhelmingly civilian. It should in many respects be similar to the Army Corps of Engineers, which has (according to its Web site) approximately 650 military and 34,000 civilian members. This would be proper because it is civil societies that we attempt to rebuild, and most of the necessary expertise resides outside the military sphere.
Certain other benefits would flow from concentrating reconstruction affairs under the Department of Defense. Relative to the other branches of government, the armed forces seem to place a good bit of emphasis on historical precedent and "lessons learned." To the extent that an institutional memory needs to be developed and refined as new situations arise, the Pentagon seems better prepared than others to do so. In addition, the military also seems more willing than other branches to innovate or transform the way it approaches a situation. This kind of flexibility would serve it well in adapting to the constantly changing situation on the ground in a failed state. Those who are taught to deal with the "fog of war" would seem to be the best prepared to deal with the "fog of peace."
Forest Hills, N.Y.
Francis Fukuyama replies:
A permanent Office of Reconstruction could be located in a number of places in the U.S. government, including the Pentagon, and there is a certain case to be made for locating it there, given the importance of security during the initial phases of a reconstruction effort. When I spoke of the need for civilian control, however, I was thinking more about the second phase of nation-building: when the occupation authority is trying to find an exit strategy and turn over control to local political actors. The timing, nature, and scale of this transition must ultimately be determined by the President, not the Secretary of Defense, because only the President is in a position to appraise and balance the various national interests involved.
This is more than an abstract question. Our current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has long been an opponent of nation-building, and much of the Pentagon's behavior before and after the Iraq War can be explained by his reluctance to involve U.S. forces in a prolonged occupation. Unfortunately, judging from past nation-building exercises, long occupations are necessary if the United States is to leave behind durable institutions of any sort. Hence it is very appropriate that Jerry Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, now tends to bypass Rumsfeld, his nominal boss, and report directly to the White House in formulating strategy on the timing and nature of elections, the nature of the new Iraqi constitution, and other issues.
he Tuition Crunch" invites the following questions:
Where is it written that simply because a degree from a four-year college garners 75 percent more average real income than a high school diploma (the qualities of the individuals involved apparently being irrelevant), all high school graduates are entitled to one?
Where is the information about how many graduates are needed to support the economy—that is, what might be the (affordable) balance between high school, undergraduate, and postgraduate education in twenty-first-century America?
What should be said—and what should be done—about the appalling decline in basic education that requires as many as half of university freshmen to enroll in remedial math and English?
What is the average actual—as opposed to nominal—tuition paid by students at public colleges and universities, and how much has it increased?
Why, exactly, should society at large pay for somebody to increase his or her earning potential by 75 percent?
Isn't it obvious that the number of high school graduates is greater than the number of jobs requiring college-degree skills?
Jennifer Washburn replies:
Andrew Allison's comment that expanding access to higher education will only result in an oversupply of college graduates and an undersupply of high-skilled jobs is, I believe, misguided. The percentage of the U.S. graduation-age population awarded bachelor's degrees in 1999 (the latest year for which statistics are available) is comparable to the percentage in the United Kingdom and Canada. We award far fewer graduate degrees in the sciences as a percentage of total graduate degrees (13.7) than Japan (42.4), Germany (38.9), or the Czech Republic (21.3) does.
Most of America's competitors in the industrialized world recognize the value of investing in a highly educated work force—and for good reason. College graduates fuel our nation's creativity and industrial ingenuity by starting new businesses and opening up entirely new industrial sectors that tend to expand opportunities for people with advanced skills. (Consider the rise of the Internet and biotechnology, for example.) Society as a whole benefits enormously from having a world-class higher-education system and an educated work force that is capable of realizing its full potential, neither of which would exist absent a large public subsidy.
Unless we continue to appreciate the role that higher education plays in driving our intellectual ingenuity and creativity and sustaining our technological leadership in the global marketplace, it is unclear whether many high-paying jobs will be left in America, no matter what the required skill or education level.
ost of the table "What Our Children Might Do for a Living ...," in Michael Lind's "Are We Still a Middle-Class Nation?," looks valid, with an assortment of starvation-wage jobs waiting for the American worker of tomorrow. But the entry for "Computer software engineer, applications," at the highest wage in the table and with a projected +380,000 jobs available this decade, ignores three trends.
1) Though no one has been hiring computer programmers for the past three years, and tens if not hundreds of thousands of U.S. programmers are out of work, the 2004 quota for H1B techworker visas is still 65,000, and there is no limit to the number of L1 visas that can be had by both U.S. and foreign companies working in the United States; 58,000 were given out last year. That's about 120,000 cheap imported programmers a year. We can thank great public relations from the shortsighted U.S. tech industry, and a lazy and corrupt Congress, for this sad state of affairs.
2) Tens if not hundreds of thousands of U.S. programming jobs are being sent offshore every year, to India and elsewhere. This knowledge transfer was initiated by the enormous number of cheap programmers imported over the past ten years, and is being kicked into high gear by IBM, Sun, Oracle, and Microsoft, among others. Not only does IBM transfer its own U.S. jobs overseas, but it is doing booming business helping other American companies ship their jobs overseas. Once these jobs are gone, they're gone for good.
3) Americans are still being encouraged to climb the "skill ladder" to stay ahead of the forces of job globalization that send anything not nailed to a physical location overseas to the lowest bidder. But just as there's a bandwagon sending manufacturing jobs to China, there's another one sending highly skilled tech jobs overseas. You can get a Ph.D. in a technical field and it won't save you, so long as there's an English-speaking Ph.D. overseas who will work for a third or a fourth as much.
Of course, this all works out just fine for the five percent of the U.S. public that lives off capital, tax breaks, and the returns of stateless corporations with no stake in the future or interest in cushioning the effects of globalization. And it works out just fine for the Republicans who run the government: a world where five percent of the public does well, and the rest can fend for themselves in squalid shantytowns, is pretty much their vision of the perfect world.
I'm an independent contractor, so I don't get unemployment insurance. I haven't been able to find work for a few years, and my life savings are nearly gone. Though this experience has made me feel like killing something, I'm too old to join the Marines. I'd like to sign up for one of President Bush's promised job-retraining programs, but I'm worried that whatever field I choose will be shipped overseas before I'm finished with the program.
Since all the unskilled jobs have been taken by illegal immigrants without a friendly visa program, I'll have to get something semi-skilled. With my computer skills, you'd think I'd be able to figure out how to work a cash register. I hope so, because Burger King, here I come!
Michael Lind replies:
Kurt Strahm's point is valid and important, even though it is somewhat tangential to my argument that with or without outsourcing, the long-term trend is toward the growth of jobs in the nontraded domestic service sector.
Advice & Consent
wish to take issue with Robert D. Kaplan's depiction of the potential threat to Mongolian and Central Asian stability posed by the Uighur separatists in Xinjiang ("The Man Who Would Be Khan," March Atlantic). It is perhaps a minor detail in an otherwise fascinating article, but I feel obliged to question what sense there is in mentioning Uighur separatists in the same breath with Chechen separatists and transnational terrorism.
I have spent the past three years working and traveling in western China, and in my experience the concern of most Uighurs lies in their own particular struggle against the Chinese state and not in the broader agenda of international Islamist movements. Although acts of violence against the Chinese state have occurred sporadically over the past decade, the spark is to be found in political tensions stemming from the Chinese suppression of Uighur culture and civil rights. Islam in Xinjiang is a moderate mixture of Sufic traditions and pre-Islamic Uighur culture that has little affinity for the strict and intolerant religious precepts of Wahhabism or the Taliban. Moreover, Uighurs in general have a very favorable impression of the United States, because America is seen to be one of the few nations willing to stand up for the rights of minority nationalities in China.
The thought of a terrorist march across Mongolia being "spearheaded" by Uighur separatists is extremely farfetched—unless, of course, Kaplan believes everything he hears from the Chinese government. The PRC has gotten great political mileage out of the war on terrorism and the convenient threat of Uighur terrorism, using it as a pretext for clamping down on human rights across Xinjiang. Kaplan is right on, though, in pointing out that poorly thought-out frontier policies on the part of the PRC will be the largest source of instability in the region.
he otherwise estimable Mark Steyn makes a glaring error in his piece "The Imperfect Spy" (March Atlantic) by naming Roger Hollis as "possibly a fifth [man]" in the infamous Cambridge spy ring, after Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, and Anthony Blunt. In the 1980s Hollis was wrongly accused by Peter Wright in the book Spycatcher. In 1990 Christopher Andrew, of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, in KGB: The Inside Story (co-written with the former KGB colonel Oleg Gordievsky), finally identified the Fifth Man as John Cairncross. Cairncross admitted his role before his recent death, and Andrew has gone on to become the world's leading intelligence scholar.
I attribute Steyn's mistake to the fact that quality journals have stubbornly refused to address seriously the revelations in the KGB archives (briefly opened after the collapse of the Soviet Union) and have completely ignored the declassification of the Venona files by the NSA and the CIA in 1995.
Venona—hundreds of thousands of messages between Soviet agents and agents of influence in Moscow and America from 1942 to the early 1960s, intercepted by U.S. cryptologists—is the single greatest source of accurate Cold War information. It answers some of the most divisive questions in the recent political history of the United States—for example, by naming Alger Hiss, Julius Rosenberg, Harry Dexter White, Laurence Duggan, and others as Soviet agents. As even the illustrious Arthur Schlesinger Jr. so aptly put it, "McCarthy was right."
ark Bowden's "When the Front Page Meets the Big Screen" (March Atlantic) takes issue with the ways in which Hollywood movies treat journalists. But what's truly strange about the piece is the way Bowden himself treats screenwriters. They seem not to exist.
The article spends considerable time speaking of All the President's Men—whose Academy Award-winning screenwriter, William Goldman, is here nowhere to be found. It segues to Absence of Malice, referred to as "Sydney Pollack's great 1981 film"—as if Kurt Luedtke, who wrote it, and earned an Oscar nomination for that work, was somehow rendered superfluous (and invisible) once the director came on board. Bowden then considers Shattered Glass—eliding Billy Ray, who wrote it.
All told, some thirty-odd films are mentioned in Bowden's piece. Many have stars, some have directors, others have source material—but none of them, apparently, possesses a writer.
Howard A. Rodman
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.
Copyright © 2004 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; June 2004; Letters to the Editor; Volume 293, No. 5; 14-30.