Letters to the Editor
Regarding Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s article ("In Defense of Michael Skakel"), every morsel of exculpatory information relevant to the Skakel case was provided to the defense well in advance of trial. Attorney Michael Sherman was both relentless and thorough in his pursuit of all those matters at trial. What Kennedy avers in his lengthy diatribe consists, almost paragraph by paragraph, of distortions, facts taken out of context, half truths, nontruths, and Skakel family post-conviction revisionism.
At the same time, Kennedy chooses to either soft-pedal or ignore most of the state's most incriminating evidence. This, of course, results in a discounting of the cumulative effect of the state's case, which comes not the least from the thirteen separate witnesses to whom Skakel made either incriminating admissions or outright confessions. Kennedy also fails at even a pretense of a critical appraisal of the defense evidence, which, quite clearly, failed to impress the jury. My impression at trial was that the defense case was so lacking in credibility that our case actually built on it.
That Michael Skakel and his family are bewildered and angered at the conviction is hardly surprising. From the very night of this horrible crime they conducted themselves in the expectation that he would get away with murder. Thankfully, the State of Connecticut was able to thwart that expectation in a case tried fairly and truly.
Jonathan C. Benedict
As Kenneth Littleton's attorney, I must respond to the inaccuracies and distortions contained in Robert Kennedy's article. Kennedy's attempt to point an accusatory finger at Littleton for the murder of Martha Moxley is unjustified, not only because it is erroneous but also because it unfairly seeks to use Littleton's subsequent emotional difficulties to somehow exonerate Michael Skakel, who was convicted of Moxley's murder.
Despite decades of law enforcement investigation, much of which took place with the cooperation of Littleton, no credible evidence has ever been developed that he was responsible for this ghastly murder, which occurred so soon after his employment by the Skakels.
Kennedy's scenario in which Littleton committed the murder in a drunken rage after Moxley refused his advances is absurd. I know of no evidence that Littleton was in an "alcoholic stupor" that evening. In addition, he was in the Skakel home with several members of the Skakel family and household staff, and friends. No information provided by any of these people in their various statements to the police over the years would suggest any unusual activities by Littleton during that evening. To postulate that Littleton, who never even saw Moxley, briefly left the house, beat her to death in a drunken rage, hid the body, and quickly returned to the house—without anyone's noticing anything unusual about his behavior or appearance—is preposterous.
Two additional points by Kennedy further illustrate the porosity of his argument. The composite sketch referenced in the article, of an individual seen in the vicinity that evening, is not of Kenneth Littleton, as Kennedy suggests, but of a neighborhood resident—as conclusively determined by the Greenwich Police Department years ago. Finally, the mysterious clothes, too large to fit any Skakel, found by a maid after the murder and apparently vigorously washed, were not Littleton's but Michael Skakel's. The police determined that he had borrowed them from someone at a camp the summer prior to the murder.
The case Kennedy presents against Littleton collapses when fact separates from fiction. Littleton has certainly had difficulties in the years since this tragedy. But none of these incidents would be admissible in any court to establish that he was responsible for this murder. Nor do they logically connect him to the murder—as Skakel's multiple admissions of killing Moxley connect him.
That a member of a family that has for so many years stood for the concept of fundamental fairness for all should choose to falsely attack an unfortunate and innocent man is regrettable.
Eugene J. Riccio
Though I admire Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s environmental work, I'm compelled to sprinkle some acid rain on his defense of Michael Skakel. Lack of space limits me to three areas of concern.
1) Ken Littleton, the Skakel tutor in 1975, once again finds himself in the role of scapegoat. Much of what Kennedy writes about him is either false or callously distorted. It is not true, for instance, that Littleton acknowledged having been in a drunken blackout on the night of the murder. Kennedy misinterprets a transcript in which Littleton referred to a blackout in 1984, during a car trip up the East Coast. The only person in this sad story prone to alcoholic blackouts in 1975 was Michael Skakel.
Littleton is an easy mark for people who, like the former state inspector Jack Solomon, see his mental illness as a manifestation of guilt. Improbably, Littleton's paranoia turned out to be justified. Until last summer's trial (which I attended, having written a book about the case in 1998 and wanting to see how it all turned out) Littleton spent a decade believing that he'd confessed to murdering Martha Moxley. How could this be? This is how: Littleton's ex-wife, acting at the behest of police investigators in 1992, told Littleton falsely that he had admitted to the crime during the alcohol-fueled delirium mentioned above. But the ruse failed to provoke the desired admission. "I said that?" was Littleton's bewildered reply. If the authorities truly believed that Littleton had said, for instance, "She wouldn't die. I had to stab her through the neck," they would have arrested him in no time flat—Inspector Solomon would have seen to it.
The notion that Littleton might be a serial killer was entertained seriously by only one man: Jack Solomon. Readers should not be fooled into thinking that Littleton was a viable suspect in other murders. And it is untrue that the Greenwich police detective Steve Carroll, whom I knew well, was anywhere near "convinced" of Littleton's guilt. Carroll leaned heavily toward Tom Skakel until, long after his retirement, evidence of Michael's involvement emerged. (My suspicions followed a similar route.)
Kennedy writes accurately that the police lost a well-scrubbed pair of dungarees, but they most certainly did not belong to Littleton, as Kennedy implies. Their provenance begins with a William Matthai, who gave them (name sewn in) to a fellow summer camper in New Hampshire: Michael Skakel. Finally, the police sketch that Kennedy describes as a "dead ringer" for Littleton—it is a pretty good likeness—also bears a strong resemblance to a neighbor known to be out walking that night.
Kennedy sometimes trips on his own reasoning. He argues, credibly, that the murder occurred around 10:00 P.M., and then puts Littleton in the Skakel kitchen at that hour. And since Kennedy acknowledges that Tom Skakel was with Martha Moxley until 9:50 and with Littleton from about 10:00 to 10:30, he all but rules out Littleton himself. (Those who would accept that a ten-minute window was sufficient for Littleton to zip out and savagely kill a girl he did not know must grapple with Julie Skakel's observation that at 10:00 Littleton seemed altogether normal—not "inflamed and in an alcoholic stupor.")
Kennedy notes (parenthetically but tellingly) that most of the Skakels say they believe the best evidence points not to Littleton but to the family gardener, Franz Wittine, who is conveniently dead. If Wittine was the monster that Kennedy describes, why did the Skakels sound no alarm in 1975?
2) Kennedy praises Michael's life of sobriety, attained in 1982, but seems mostly ignorant of his calamitous teen years. Let me help. Contrary to Kennedy's suggestion of mental soundness, Michael seemed in the grip of "a severe agitated depression . . . possibly of psychotic proportions," according to Sue Wallington Quinlan, a psychiatrist who examined him in 1977. "There is also great fury inside him focused primarily in hatred for his father," Quinlan wrote in her report. "This anger is very frightening . . ." One year later Michael led the police in Windham, New York, on a wild car chase that ended at the base of a telephone pole. (Kennedy demotes this to "a drunken car accident.") Thomas Sheridan, the family lawyer, observed at the time that Michael was "obviously a disturbed person" who "showed little or no remorse for having nearly killed the companion in his car . . . his only comment was 'Next time I won't get caught.'"
3) Kennedy's fixation on Dominick Dunne leads him to the unwarranted belief that the writer held the defense lawyer Mickey Sherman in his thrall and at the same time—through his "protégé" Mark Fuhrman—pressured Connecticut authorities to "indict a Skakel." In reality Sherman wasted few chances to attack Dunne's claims, and Michael Skakel wandered into Connecticut's crosshairs long before any "Fuhrman-Dunne view" could have coalesced. Inspector Frank Garr discovered in 1995 that Michael was now placing himself at the crime scene, and in 1996 that he had made damaging admissions to fellow denizens of Elan. (Kennedy dismisses the Elanites as "crackpots" eager to point a finger, but some who testified were, and remain, sympathetic to Michael. Two such people recall Michael's saying that either he or his brother Tom killed Martha Moxley; he couldn't remember, owing to his blackout.) At the time of Garr's discoveries Fuhrman had yet to hear Michael Skakel's name, though he would advance a very public case against him in 1998.
Kennedy does make some worthwhile points. The national press corps did little independent investigation despite lavish attention to the case, and TV "experts" perpetuated errors at a discouraging rate. I also grant Kennedy that the case against Michael was less than airtight. (I had expected a hung jury.) But in the end his defense of Michael Skakel, replete with errors, distortions, and clever hairsplitting, is of little authentic value to readers, much less to Skakel himself.
Robert Kennedy suggests that the jury at his cousin's trial was "eager to give the Moxleys justice." The jury simply listened to the facts and made a decision based on those facts as presented. The jury determined that a murder weapon had been identified and a motive established, along with the presence of the accused at the scene of the crime. Kennedy's opinion is that Mickey Sherman was a poor choice as a defense attorney. But if Kennedy had sat through the proceedings in their entirety, had taken in the presentation of all evidence, and had personally witnessed the credibility, or lack of it, of those called to the stand, his opinion would be the same as mine: Guilty!
That was the verdict the rest of the jury shared with me—from the moment the case was put to rest and turned over to us. In fact, from the very first "straw vote" no one offered a vote of innocence. Michael Skakel was found guilty because we took our job seriously and followed the instructions of the judge.
Michael Skakel's plea to the judge before his sentencing, quoted in our local Greenwich Time newspaper, was one of the saddest and most persuasive documents I have ever read. Robert Kennedy Jr.'s defense of Skakel in your magazine provided further support that someone else killed Martha Moxley. I have a dreadful feeling that an innocent Michael Skakel could spend decades in prison, at needless and irreparable cost to his three-year-old son, bringing relief only to a vengeful Dominick Dunne, and undermining the presumption of fairness in our justice system.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. replies:
Jonathan Benedict fails to name a single inaccuracy in my article, in which all statements of fact were rigorously verified by Atlantic Monthly fact checkers.
Prior to trial the prosecution withheld key evidence. It included taped interviews with critical witnesses, including fifty-two hours of audio and video statements by Ken Littleton, a prime suspect; an arrest application for another suspect; and a composite portrait that is a dead ringer for Littleton by a security guard who saw the subject at the time and place of the murder. (The neighbor whom Timothy Dumas claims that sketch also resembles has an alibi for his whereabouts at the time.) Prosecutors misled the jury by offering a photograph of a large, muscular, adult Michael Skakel, claiming that it was contemporaneous with the murder, to prove that Michael (then a runt) was large enough to have mounted the ferocious assault; by ignoring key evidence regarding the time of death so as to circumvent Michael's alibi; and by misusing statements in Michael's taped book proposal to make him appear to be confessing to murder. Benedict's single-minded focus on Michael Skakel went beyond the boundaries of aggressive prosecution and assured that promising leads against other suspects were ignored or never investigated and that the real murderer is still free.
No single piece but an accumulation of evidence convicted Michael. All of the key evidence was tainted. He never confessed to any crime; the only "confession" was obviously contrived twenty-five years after the fact, by Greg Coleman, an imprisoned addict bargaining for leniency who acknowledged using heroin prior to testifying before the grand jury and changed his story repeatedly thereafter; and by John Higgins, who admitted to lying to the police about his knowledge of the case.
Michael's airtight alibi was never established before the jury, thanks to an anemic defense by an attorney so overconfident of his case that, Michael's family maintains, he failed to interview key witnesses. Mickey Sherman also failed to call any of the dozen witnesses who offered to testify that Michael had told the same story about the murder night since the mid-seventies, in order to deflate the prosecution's central point that his story was a recent fabrication.
Littleton failed five lie-detector tests and offered the police six conflicting alibis about his whereabouts on the night of the murder. Contrary to Eugene Riccio's assertion, Littleton first denied and subsequently confessed that he was wandering the Skakel property in the vicinity of the murder at the very time the crime occurred. According to police reports, Littleton made several incriminating statements to his wife and inculpatory statements to others, and at other times expressed confusion about whether or not he had committed the crime. The supposition that he murdered Martha in a drunken rage is not mine but the chief police investigator Jack Solomon's. Littleton suffered from debilitating alcoholism and has admitted that he was drinking that night and was or may have been in an alcoholic blackout. He acknowledged making such statements at trial. He often lamented that his memories of the night were incomplete. Mr. Dumas's claim that only Jack Solomon suspected Ken Littleton as a serial murderer is wrong. Multiple police reports indicate that the possibility was being considered by Detective Frank Garr, Detroit homicide detectives, police psychologists from Detroit and Connecticut, and numerous other investigators. Dumas disparages Jack Solomon, apparently because after twenty-five years as chief investigator for the state, Solomon concluded that someone else had committed the crime, and refused to join the lynch mob against Michael Skakel. Solomon is among the most respected law-enforcement officials in Connecticut. He serves today as the chief of police in Easton, Connecticut, and was the president of Connecticut's Police Chiefs Association last year. Since the crime Littleton has been involved in many incidents of violence and sexual attacks against women. His alcoholism, bizarre behavior, and criminal activities have landed him in jails and mental institutions. Incidentally, the washed dungarees (lost by the police) belonged to a large man of Littleton's size. Michael Skakel's twenty-inch waist would have drowned in their thirty-six-inch girth. The supposed connection with Michael Skakel's fellow camper is feeble.
As I said in my article, I do not know that Littleton committed the Moxley murder. I do know that he was one of several suspects against whom there was much stronger evidence than what prosecutors conjured and manipulated to convict Michael Skakel. My article is meant to show how two celebrity reporters pressured law-enforcement officials to turn their guns on Michael, who was never a serious suspect, while granting immunity to the state's prime suspect. In contrast to Littleton, Michael had an airtight, polygraph-certified alibi, with four witnesses as to his whereabouts—miles away—at the time. He passed multiple sodium-pentothal tests, and offered to undergo polygraphs and DNA testing. Michael's turbulent boyhood was mercilessly discussed by the press and at trial. It does not make him a murderer. Michael has no record of criminal violence before or after this crime. He has lived an exemplary and sober life for twenty years. Whereas Littleton stopped cooperating with the police in 1993, the Skakel family continued to cooperate right up to the time of trial.
Like the other writers who have sold books on the supposition that a Skakel committed the crime, Dumas skeptically dismisses every fact that exonerates Michael while heaping credence on the flimsiest tidbits that suggest his guilt. One marvels at these writers' fearless willingness to bet another man's life on a hunch.
Although I was born in the United States to native speakers of English, and consider myself competent in its use, I'm having trouble getting into the rhythm of this new K-12 dialect ("The Language Police," by Diane Ravitch). For practice, I've tried using the suggested K-12 equivalents in sentences:
Edwin Firmage Jr.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Diane Ravitch's list of words and stereotypes banned from educational materials brilliantly conveys the efforts of politically correct members of the academic establishment to impoverish the English language. May I suggest an aspect of this process that is normally overlooked? Though linguistic watchdogs insist that sexist expressions be eliminated from textbooks, their demands never seem to include pejorative terms. I have yet to see a list of approved expressions that includes "second-story person" or "confidence person" instead of "second-story man" or "confidence man."
Could a Bengali peasant, lost in the jungle, be apprehended and consumed by a "person-eating tiger"?
San Rafael, Calif.
As a multiracial American female who happens to be legally disabled, I read and even chuckled at Diane Ravitch's list. I heard the same voices that congratulate me on my good English complaining about the so-called ethnic stereotypes to avoid: "But lots of Native Americans do live in rural reservations! And how can it be bad to say that Asians tend to be hard workers or intelligent?"
I had to smile, however, when I saw that the words "courageous" and "inspirational" were nixed for their "patronizing" overtones. One has only to listen to a "person with disabilities" to see that he or she wants to be seen as a whole, real person with many facets to life and personality—not just to be accepted for his or her successes, but to be allowed room to fail or have a bad attitude. We want to be accepted for who we are and not prejudged by a concept of who we are supposed to be.
Some of the anti-bias terms we should supposedly avoid are not really terrible, just not the best. For example, few of my fellow disabled use "differently abled," but we do not object to other disabled people's preference for it. We find the phrase a bit silly and would not like to see it in general use, but that is not because we find it "offensive." Most people with disabilities hear "handicapped" and especially "crippled" the way the so-called "N-word" is heard by African-Americans. We have felt this way for decades.
I prefer to be known as "disabled"; Michigan's folk prefer to be called "handicappers." A handful of people favor "handicapable." I know amputees who call one another "gimps," but that's an in-group expression you had better not use. If you wish to avoid insulting large numbers of people, you will heed these suggestions.
Finally, "confined to a wheelchair" is offensive to many, but we wheelchair riders feel that wheelchairs set us free. And we are hardly nailed into the seats.
Cheryl A. Davis
Palo Alto, Calif.
I was reading Diane Ravitch's list of banned words and stereotypes in "The Language Police" with appalled amusement when I came upon "Stickball (banned as regional or ethnic bias)." I suddenly realized that this is the type of word I had banned when I was involved in the development of high-stake tests for the New York City Board of Education. I checked the introduction to the list again, and, lo and behold, it says "...when preparing textbooks and tests for K-12 students."
This article has mixed together two disparate lists. One reflects a mindless oversensitivity to words such as "the blind" and "paraplegic." It replaces legitimate words with unwieldy circumlocutions that are rightly derided. The other is totally different. It came from an effort to minimize biases in tests, so that the playing field is as level as possible. Take "stickball," for instance. If a mathematics question uses the scoring in that game to pose the problem, under the slogan of "authenticity," it will be grossly unfair to students who have never heard of that game. Mathematics tests are not tests of culture, and should avoid unnecessary entanglements. This is why it is entirely proper to ban words that are peculiar to a particular region or ethnic group.
Rego Park, N.Y.
Thanks to Diane Ravitch—and the rest of the language police—for taking school textbooks seriously. All of you make the work of all of us who get paid to write and edit these books much tougher, but we do need policing. Without it, we would probably still be referring to American Indians as "treacherous, cruel people," as David Muzzey's classic American-history textbook did.
The language that strikes some as overly sensitive to the concerns of minorities is just a small fraction of the problem with textbooks. Publishers are alert to the delicate feelings of many types of readers. For example, on one book my editor rejected a reading by the socialist Michael Harrington because she feared it would offend conservatives by making socialism "sound reasonable." On another the publisher deleted a picture of the United Nations at the last minute because he feared it would enrage people in rural areas. On a third we avoided suggesting any benefits of high tariffs in American history because Texas wanted books praising free trade.
The problem with textbook language is rooted in the commitment by publishers to market correctness. Publishers survive by selling books, so they avoid anything that might offend potential buyers. This is probably good business, but it is not good education. For an insightful look at the problems that result from this in history textbooks, see James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me. I hope Ravitch and others will continue to criticize the language in textbooks. I also hope they will also consider ways to attack the fundamental problem.
The use of the word "suffragist" instead of "suffragette" in textbooks is a matter of historical accuracy, not a matter of political correctness, as "The Language Police" alleges.
"Suffragette" is a derogatory term that was hurled at Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and all the many other women who struggled for seventy-two years in order to gain the right to vote.
Time may have taken the edge off the term "suffragette." However, "suffragist" is the name these valiant women always used in reference to themselves. It is only right and proper that our textbooks do likewise.
Diane Ravitch's list from "The Language Police" omitted an entry: Nitwit: (banned; replace with publishers who think there is a significant difference between "the elderly" and "older people").
Thomas Cunningham (unrepentantly elderly)
To say "the deaf" or "the blind" implies that not hearing or not seeing is their defining characteristic. People are also diminished when we say "the stutterer" for the person who stutters, "the aphasic" for the person who has aphasia, "the cleft palate" for the person who has a cleft palate, "the laryngectomee" for the person whose larynx has been removed. First, see the whole person.
Mary Virginia Moore
Thank you for publishing a fascinating article that makes us smile at every baby we see.
San Diego, Calif.
Patricia Stacey's article fills me with hope and compassion for my six-year-old son, who, like her Walker, shines with intelligence and empathy, yet struggles to say "hi" to school friends or join in a simple game of basketball. After round after round of meetings, special-education consultations, and piles of meaningless jargon and dead-end ideas on treating autism, I found in Stacey's observations a much needed jolt of clarity in a very muddled life situation.
Anecdotes of recovery from autism are as numerous as the competing treatments for it. Dr. Stanley Greenspan's 50 percent cure rate seems quite impressive until you notice the huge selection bias in his chart review. He considers only those who had at least two years of six to ten thirty-minute floor-time sessions a day—a grueling regimen for anyone whose child isn't progressing much.
I don't doubt that Patricia Stacey's son really did outgrow a subtype of autism, and I congratulate her on her strenuous work. Nor do I question whether Walker's underlying problem was a hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli: naturally one retreats when overloaded. But there are many subtypes of autism, and not all of them result from sensory dysfunction.
Dr. Stanley Greenspan implies that he knows of no definitive evidence of benefit for children with autism from either floor time or "Lovaas therapy." Unfortunately, this is only half right. We do lack definitive evidence of benefit from floor time. But some solid research suggests that interventions like Lovaas therapy, based on applied behavior analysis, are the most beneficial therapies available for young children with autism spectrum disorders.
Association for Science in Autism Treatment
Patricia Stacey replies:
The Lovaas method has apparently helped many children, but Lovaas supporters are relying on a study that is not as reliable as Betsy Welch suggests. The study, published in 1987 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, has been criticized for its lack of rigorous methodology. Its subjects were not a representative population; children chosen for it had to satisfy certain criteria (in essence, appear to be more likely to succeed). Furthermore, children were not randomly assigned to groups. Perhaps most questionable are the study's criteria for success—IQ and educational skills. In the only published full replication of the study, using true clinical-trial methodology, the Lovaas ABA approach showed a 13 percent success rate for educational gains as opposed to the 47 percent cited in the original study. The replication study, moreover, showed little or no gains in important social and emotional capacities.
Like critics of the Lovaas study, Katharine Beals criticizes Greenspan's chart review for its selection bias. But Greenspan emphasizes the limitations of his chart review, and neither document is definitive evidence, as I say in my article. Ms. Beals also raises the useful point that some subtypes of autism are resistant to treatment, an issue I discuss in my forthcoming book, The Boy Who Loved Windows, fromwhich the article was taken. I disagree, however, that the axioms of Greenspan's approach ignore the diversity of autism. In fact, the very essence of his approach is to embrace diversity. Through his program one seeks to know a child profoundly through his particular learning style, to approach him with empathy and sensitivity for his weaknesses, to use his strengths as leverage to overcome those weaknesses.
I heartily agree with Margaret Harmon that our culture's obsession with videos and television is limiting our children's social development. Still, it's important to emphasize—lest we fall into the faulty reasoning that drove Bruno Bettelheim and other early clinicians to blame parents for their children's illnesses—that autism is a disorder proven to have a biological basis.
David S. Sowell
Let me, as a fellow introvert, relate to Jonathan Rauch an actual exchange that he could find useful. My wife asked me, "Are you speaking to yourself again?" I replied, "Yes—and I don't want to be interrupted."
West Columbia, Texas
Hooray for Jonathan Rauch and his desperately needed "Caring for Your Introvert." I am exultant. I laughed out loud no fewer than fourteen times. I have shrunk and laminated a hundred copies of the article, and carry a few in my shirt pocket. Now, when someone perplexed by more than fifteen seconds of silence asks, "What are you thinking about?" I simply hand him or her a copy and retire to the basement.
As a member of Eisenhower's White House staff and a witness to his sound health, well-being, and active schedule during campaign year 1960, I can assure you that President Eisenhower was in very good health then and for years thereafter.
Douglas R. Price
I call to your attention a quirky and potentially misleading statement made in James Fallows's article. It is ungenerous of Fallows to claim that President Cleveland was unceremoniously "voted out" after being elected. In fact, like Al Gore, Cleveland won the majority of the popular vote. It would have been more precise to say that he lost the election because the electoral count went against him on his first re-election attempt.
Craig T. Robertson
Huntington Station, N.Y.
James Fallows replies:
Douglas Price saw Eisenhower firsthand, and I did not. It is also true that Eisenhower survived for eight years after leaving office, long enough to see his former Vice President, Richard Nixon, inaugurated. But he had six heart attacks in his post-presidential period, and press accounts at the end of his second term portrayed him as being in failing health overall.
Craig Robertson is right about the circumstances of Grover Cleveland's "defeat"; I appreciate the clarification.
I have been lice-free for one year, seven months and eighteen days.
Newbury Park, Calif.
I offer further perspective on "The Louse Is in the House." Although I agree that over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos are not always effective, they do cure many cases of head lice when used properly. Physicians are often biased, in that we see only those children whose initial treatment was a failure. In such cases, however, there are three good prescription alternatives. The first is malathion lotion (Ovide¨, Medicis), which P. J. O'Rourke pejoratively dismisses as "bug spray." Correct me if I'm wrong, but if one is infested with bugs, shouldn't one want bug spray? It is important to distinguish between technical-grade malathion and pharmaceutical-grade malathion. The former is sprayed over crops, and recently against West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes. Reports of side effects are in large part presumed to be due to a toxic impurity. Pharmaceutical-grade malathion is free of this impurity.
The other two remedies are FDA approved for other indications, but are often used "off-label" by physicians treating head lice. The first is five percent permethrin (Elimite¨, Allergan, Inc.; Acticin¨, Bertek Pharmaceuticlas, Inc.), an insecticidal cream with five times the potency of OTC Nix¨ (Pfizer, Inc.). The second is ivermectin (Stromectol¨, Merck & Co.), a semisynthetic antiparasitic agent for oral administration.
These products offer excellent cure rates and have minimal safety concerns when used properly. I agree that mechanical removal of lice and nits is a useful adjunct with all treatments, but it is not always "the actual answer," as O'Rourke states. Even with a highly motivated parent and a cooperative child, it is very easy to miss a few of the little critters. All it takes is a pair to start the next generation, and it seems to me that they're always in the mood.
Recalcitrant cases of head lice require aggressive therapy, including prescription products and mechanical extraction. It is wrong to unfairly malign all prescription therapies, and to thus dissuade patients from seeking out physicians familiar with their use. Just think of all the well-meaning parents who treated their children with OTC agents, "all natural" products, occlusion with petroleum jelly, or mechanical removal alone. Many of these parents end up regretting their decision when the school nurse finds a few persisting nits on the scalp, and then forces the children to miss a week or more of school, until all nits are removed.
Ira A. Pion, M.D.
Also missing is any acknowledgment that women have left the home for paying jobs in the past several decades— not just out of a selfish desire for freedom and personal fulfillment#8212;but in order to support their families in the face of the cold, hard, and very unsexy economic reality that it has been a long time since most men could support a family on one income. Rather than trashing women for leaving the home and causing every form of social chaos known to man (including, apparently, sex-starved marriages), perhaps we should turn our attention to the slackerly men who can't make enough money to keep all those June Cleaver wannabes home in style, primed for making whoopee. Likewise, why accept at face value the assertion of the books that Flanagan reviews: that it is wives, and not husbands, who lose interest in the marital bed? And why assume that it is the wife's sole responsibility to fix what is broken?
New York, N.Y.
Caitlin Flanagan suggests that even in the happiest of modern couples, the trend is for parents to spend their free time trying to please their children and not themselves. This is a slippery slope, leading to the dumbing down of adult life in our culture. By her own admission Flanagan and her husband take their vacations in supposedly child-centered environments#8212;"hotels with elaborate children's pools and nightly fireworks and huge duck ponds"#8212;rather than "dragging our little boys through the Louvre," as her own parents did. What a mistake! Children who participate early and often in the things their parents find absorbing (art, travel, music, the outdoors) not only learn about those things but also see their parents as separate, grown-up people—not just big kids. The advantages to us, the adults, of following our hearts and our interests, can be dramatic, subtle, or both. Passion breeds passion.
Caitlin Flanagan's insightful and entertaining critique of the rash of new books on the sexless marriage reminded me of an adage I heard when my husband and I were young (and exhausted) parents: the secret to an exciting sex life for new parents is to make love so infrequently that each time is like the first time. (My husband failed to find it as hilarious as I did.)
Bainbridge Island, Wash.
Bravo to Caitlin Flanagan for her tell-it-like-it-is article about modern marriage as an antisexual institution! She's right, of course, as I can attest from twenty-some years as a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor. Too bad.
Not only is sex one of the better things there is to do in this world, but as Flanagan seems to strongly suggest, it is an important glue that can sustain and restore the marriage bond through all the "contempt" that grows through misunderstanding between the sexes.
Men need sex, to satisfy them physically as well as for other reasons. For men sex is not a "want"; sex is a "need," which will be met. For men, sex is one way they define themselves. This is simply not as true for most women.
Women who love men understand this and rearrange their priorities. Women who do not understand this (or their men) are likely to have their priorities rearranged for them ... whether they are working or not!
Corona del Mar, Calif.
Caitlin Flanagan's article on the sorry state of sex in marriages these days, due to the overly hectic lives of working women (she makes so little mention of men's working lives that we can take it for granted it's working women that are the problem), begs its very premise. Namely, that married couples in the 1950s had more sex than married couples do now.
How does she know? Where's the research to back that up? But even if it's true that these couples had more sex, how good was all that wifely-duty sex—pardon my feminism—for the women?
It's not that I can't relate to what she's saying. As working parents, my husband and I have also gone through long stretches of little or no sex. But so what? I look at my own mother, who did put out regularly in that wifely way Flanagan implicitly admires, and who didn't have a paying job or economic independence and all the demands that I have. I'll happily take my stressful life over my mother's. She tells me she would have, too, if she'd had the chance.
Flanagan seems to have missed an important aspect of the sexless stretches in marriage: namely, that they don't last. Childrearing is only one phase in life, and although you may not be screwing like rabbits through it, big deal. It strikes me that all these articles and books lamenting the dearth of married sex are more indicative of the continued self-indulgence of the "me" generation than a look at any "new" problem.
The facts are clear and indisputable about the origins of World War II and the role that the German military and people played in the Holocaust. The murder of prisoners of war, and a total of more than 12 million brutally killed, cannot be dismissed casually by the claim that the Allied forces were responsible for the deaths of less than five percent of that number in air raids on German cities of strategic importance. Certainly no one can argue that Hamburg was not an appropriate target, being the largest port in Germany, an industrial center, and home to a major naval base. Nor were other German cities, key to the German war effort, lesser targets in the struggle with one of the most evil regimes in history.
Silver Spring, Md.
How Brooks can overlook—or at least fail to allude to—the extraordinarily history of religion-inspired violence is a mystery. Quoting Peter Berger indirectly, Brooks wonders why there are "people in the world who do not feel the constant presence of God in their lives, who do not fill their days with rituals and prayers and garments that bring them into contact with the divine, and who do not believe that God's will should shape their public lives." The answer is: Look where so much of that has gotten the human race.
"The constant presence of God" is a phrase without a clear empirical referent. Whose "god"? Defined in what terms? And who says so? As for "God's will," I invite Mr. Brooks to check this out: any religious authorities who have ever laid down divine law and made people believe they knew what they were doing have benefited in terms of wealth and power to the detriment of those whom they have cowed and coerced. That is not the whole history of religion, but it is a large part of it.
The secularist is one who is guided through life by rationalized experience and makes his or her decisions based on that experience, not relying on an authoritarian "Thus saith the Lord," but, rather, on what is likely to happen as the result of a particular choice. In very practical, everyday ways, that is demonstrably how sane people make decisions.
Contrary to Brooks's analysis, secular Christians such as I are not antagonistic to religion. We do not doubt that religion—especially in its ethical dimensions—has enriched and does now enrich human life. Else why would we persist in our involvement with it? But with history as our teacher, we see that the positing of unseen deities accessible only through a kind of modern gnosticism, together with the attribution of a religious elite's a priori pronouncements of how things should be to such a deity only lead to intractable conflict such as now bedevils so much of the Mideast and threatens to bring India and Pakistan into nuclear conflict.
In fact, Brooks's squaring off with the secularists he so clearly disdains is Exhibit A. of the kind of intolerance that leads some of us reluctantly to consider that religion may be the death of us all.
Harry T. Cook, Rector
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
The article by David Brooks on "Kicking the Secularist Habit" is a distortion of the truth. The rise of religious fundamentalism is not a testimony to the failure of secularism but a tribute to its success. Fundamentalism is indeed a rebellion against the secular culture of the modern Western world. But it is a rebellion against an expanding system, not a declining one. For every person in the world who "returns" to religion, there are more who are attracted to the possibility of a free and open society.
As for Europe, where fundamentalism does not exist, the churches are gradually emptying. In prosperous Japan religion is perfunctory and politely ancestral. The only place in the Western world where there is a religious revival is in the United States. In this country the Christian right remains a large but much hated minority. One of the ways to win an election in America is to mobilize the center and the left against the religious right, as Clinton did.
If secularists appear patronizingly indifferent when they listen to religious answers, it is because they all sound alike.
Sherwin T. Wine, Dean
International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism
Farmington Hills, Mich.
David Brooks's early premise is entirely wrong. "We are living though one of the great periods of scientific progress and the creation of wealth."
The world is wallowing in poverty and becoming less educated with each passing day. Pushing out babies, which involves no reading, writing, or thinking skills, has been the chief world product in the second half of the twentieth century. That has caused a continuous can't-catch-up situation in most countries, including the United States.
As to education and scientific progress in America, that is another laugh. From secondary schools through graduate schools the sole objective is vocational training. The social sciences and humanities are almost entirely lost in the curriculum. The sciences are sought after by about five percent of students at all levels. Questioning, skepticism, and verification are given short shrift in our present educational world.
David Brooks is my favorite conservative, but he has a religious gene that keeps nagging at him. Although "recovering secularist" is a cute turn of phrase, Brooks has never been one. Those of us who read his cover article "The Organization Kid" (April 2001) have not forgotten his central concern. Whereas he extolled the many strengths of Princeton's new graduates, he worried that they might not become great, because they had lost the "language of sin and character-building through combat with sin." Nothing secular there! In addition, Brooks plays fast and loose with religious demographics: the figures I have seen do not support that our more literate world citizens are signing up for his six-step recovery program. It is those who live by revelation alone rather than by rational behavior who are presently tearing our world apart.
Punta Gorda, Fla.