Letters to the editor
James Fallows's description of John Kerry's debating skills ("When George Meets John," July/August Atlantic) was interesting, but what was most remarkable was Fallows's documentation of President Bush's mostly overlooked changes over the past decade—specifically, "the striking decline in his sentence-by-sentence speaking skills." Fallows points to "speculations that there must be some organic basis for the President's peculiar mode of speech—a learning disability, a reading problem, dyslexia or some other disorder," but correctly concludes, "The main problem with these theories is that through his forties Bush was perfectly articulate."
I, too, felt that something organic was wrong with President Bush, most probably dyslexia. But I was unaware of what Fallows pointed out so clearly: that Bush's problems have been developing slowly, and that just a decade ago he was an articulate debater, "artful indeed in steering questions and challenges to his desired subjects," who "did not pause before forcing out big words, as he so often does now, or invent mangled new ones." Consider, in contrast, the present: "the informal Q&As he has tried to avoid," "Bush's recent faltering performances," "his unfortunate puzzled-chimp expression when trying to answer questions," "his stalling, defensive pose when put on the spot," "speaking more slowly and less gracefully."
Not being a professional medical researcher and clinician, Fallows cannot be faulted for not putting two and two together. But he was 100 percent correct in suggesting that Bush's problem cannot be "a learning disability, a reading problem, [or] dyslexia," because patients with those problems have always had them. Slowly developing cognitive deficits, as demonstrated so clearly by the President, can represent only one diagnosis, and that is "presenile dementia"! Presenile dementia is best described to nonmedical persons as a fairly typical Alzheimer's situation that develops significantly earlier in life, well before what is usually considered old age. It runs about the same course as typical senile dementias, such as classical Alzheimer's—to incapacitation and, eventually, death, as with President Ronald Reagan, but at a relatively earlier age. President Bush's "mangled" words are a demonstration of what physicians call "confabulation," and are almost specific to the diagnosis of a true dementia. Bush should immediately be given the advantage of a considered professional diagnosis, and started on drugs that offer the possibility of retarding the slow but inexorable course of the disease.
Joseph M. Price, M.D.
The whole of James Fallows's article on Bush and Kerry's debate styles was interesting, but one comment jumped out at me: "[Bush] has rarely been interested in the details of any policy matter, believing that he 'has people' who can master the subject for him." What further proof is needed that Bush's policy decisions are based on whatever his "people" choose to tell him? Naturally they will tell him whatever (and only whatever) supports their own agendas.
Although, as Mary Beth Rogers says in the Fallows article, his "ability to stick to his message and repeat it" might be "remarkable," it implies to me that he doesn't know enough to answer questions that go beyond the text he has been given by his "people." I suspect that his "widely noted lack of eloquence" is due to his understandable insecurity. If the ideas he is expressing are not his ideas, based on his own knowledge and decision-making, then he can only repeat by rote what he has rehearsed.
Bush's lack of interest in details gives unprecedented power to his advisers (read "puppeteers")—in this case the extremists of the military/industrial/religious-right coalition who are currently running the White House, the country, and, if they have their way, the world. We need an independent thinker in the Oval Office.
Fair Haven, N.J.
My compliments and gratitude to your magazine and to Robert D. Kaplan for his gem of an article describing the Marines in action ("Five Days in Fallujah," July/August Atlantic). Thanks to his willingness to share the trials of a grunt, readers are able to understand and deeply appreciate the extraordinary difficulties faced by combatants in the Middle East wars we now fight.
There is much to praise in the article, but the salient truth is that the U.S. Marine Corps is a national treasure. Somehow it has been able to preserve its traditions of leadership and training to remain our most effective fighting force, dollar for dollar, man for man, in a national culture decidedly less disciplined than it is. One understands why the Marines fight and face wounds and death selflessly for one another when one reads about the visit of the highest leaders, including the commandant, to the battlefield. I might add that these same officers perform the hardest service of all when they personally visit the grief-stricken families of fallen Marines of all ranks, which they do often and without fanfare.
Robert D. Kaplan's fable, "Five Days in Fallujah," is filled with inaccuracies and spurious conclusions, and his comparisons with the battle for Hue are absurd.
l) The battle for Hue was in no way a "lopsided" victory. Twelve thousand North Vietnamese soldiers held the Citadel at Hue for twenty-six days. Even after the Citadel was retaken, we battled the remaining 7,000 regulars of the 304, 325C, and 324B NVA divisions and other local regiments for more than two months north and west of the city.
2) Kaplan seems to suggest that three battalions of Marines recaptured Hue without any assistance. Actually the Marines made up about a quarter to a fifth of the U.S./ARVN forces that retook Hue. Four battalions of the U.S. Army and eight battalions of ARVN soldiers took part in the action.
3) Kaplan reported only Marine casualties. In addition to those listed in this "lopsided" victory, seventy-four U.S. soldiers were killed in action, and another 507 were wounded. Among the ARVN forces, 384 were killed in action and 1,830 were wounded.
4) Later Kaplan states, "Hue, a city with half the population of Fallujah, had been assaulted by nearly three Marine battalions" (actually fifteen battalions altogether), making it sound as if we were fighting the population. We were fighting 12,000 highly trained and well-disciplined North Vietnamese and Vietcong. At Fallujah the Marines were matched against 2,000 rag-tag insurgents, according to Defense Department estimates.
The comparison to Hue breaks down on many fronts, but the major one is that we did not capitulate and form a "Hue Defense Force" composed of NVA and VC units, and pull back to a safe distance so that the "seeds of democracy" could take root.
Terry F. Stulce
Having spent a great deal of time in Fallujah since the occupation of Iraq began, and most recently the entire month of May for my article on Fallujah for The New Yorker, I was disappointed by Robert D. Kaplan's piece, and also by Kaplan's unambiguous identification with the Marines he wrote about.
Kaplan describes Fallujah as "the classic terrain of radicalism," distinguishing radicalism from conservatism. He views the authoritarian royal courts of Morocco, Jordan, and the Gulf States as venerable for their traditions—traditions that in the case of Jordan and the Gulf are artificial and not more than a century old. Unlike these royal courts, which in fact represent the "break in tradition [in] the House of Islam" of which Kaplan writes, Fallujah is the most traditional city in Iraq. Unlike Tikrit, for example, where the tribes are urbanized, based inside the city, in Fallujah the tribes are concentrated in the rural areas surrounding the city, and thus have not modernized or abandoned tribal customs as much as their counterparts in other parts of the country. The tight tribal bonds of Fallujah helped preserve the city's stability after the fall of Saddam's regime. The religious and tribal leaders appointed their own civil-management council even before American troops entered the city. Tribes assumed control of the city's institutions and protected government buildings. Religious leaders, whose authority was respected, exhorted the people to respect the law and maintain order. Thus there was a continuity of authority and tradition in Fallujah that was lacking in other parts of Iraq.
Known in Iraq as Medinat al-Masajid, or the City of Mosques, for the more than eighty mosques that dominate the city's cultural life, Fallujah is famous for its Islamic traditions, including various orders of Sufi Islam and the very conservative Salafi brand of Sunni Islam. One does not find the "break in tradition" of which Kaplan speaks, or the reinvented abstract and ideological form of Islam he blames for radicalism. Instead one finds numerous centers for religious study that produce many of Iraq's most important theologians. The vast majority of the armed fighters in Fallujah were motivated not by radical Islamic beliefs but by nationalism and pride, and were fighting to defend their families, homes, city, and way of life from the brutal American onslaught.
Kaplan comments on the dominance of southern Christian fundamentalism among the Marines without judgment, and reports that their chaplain compared their entry into Fallujah with Jesus Christ's entry into Jerusalem, describing their impending destruction of much of the city as "a spiritual battle" in which "you Marines are the tools of mercy." Kaplan admires the Marines' "matter-of-fact willingness to die." Though he mistakenly insists that the defenders of Fallujah were cowards who used the cover of women and children to attack the Marines, attackers and defenders had much more in common than he would have us believe. Fallujah's defenders believed they were defending their religion, and many bravely sacrificed their lives in defense of their neighborhoods against a terrible and mighty foe. They displayed the same solidarity and brotherhood that Kaplan admires so much in his Marines.
Kaplan's glorification of military values is also disturbing. Perhaps some Marines should have questioned orders to invade a city of 300,000, pulverizing neighborhoods and killing at least 800 people, most of them women and children. I smelled death in the city's air from corpses hastily buried in back yards and from 500 bodies in the soccer fields; I saw hospitals riddled with bullets and shells; I met ambulance drivers who had been wounded by snipers; I saw children missing limbs from Marine bullets and shells. But Kaplan either conceals or is unaware of the indiscriminate violence unleashed upon the city by the Marines he identifies with so much, who caused thousands of refugees and then prevented families from returning home unless the fighters surrendered. Kaplan's comfort with the word "imperialism" is also worrisome, but most alarming is his repeated use of the word "us" to describe the Marines. Should he not strive for a certain amount of objectivity?
Kaplan is maddened by the "enemy's" successful intelligence and also seems disappointed by the "bad news" that "politics in the form of ceasefires" was intruding to prevent him and his Marines from "taking down the city." Did he assimilate the urge to fight to the end that the young Marines he was with no doubt felt? Though, having been embedded myself, I recognize the difficulty of remaining impartial when living with the affable young men of the American military who risk their lives for the whims of politicians back in Washington, I believe it is no less, and perhaps more, important to identify with those on the receiving end of American imperialism and military might, and to question the assertions of both military and political leaders.
New York, N.Y.
Robert D. Kaplan replies:
Terry Stulce makes good points. I should have included the Army's role at Hue in my relatively brief reference to that battle. But even when you include the Army and ARVN casualties the results were still lopsided. The capitulation at Fallujah was finalized after my article went to press. Nevertheless, given the nature of urban combat and the use of Buddhist temples and mosques as enemy fortresses, my statement that Hue was "partially" a model for Fallujah is one I stand by.
As for Nir Rosen, given the changes wrought by technology, urbanization, and vast oil revenues in the Gulf, the regimes in Jordan and the Gulf have done exemplary jobs maintaining tradition and stability in their societies. Mr. Rosen praises Muslim theologians in Fallujah, but some of the planning for the butchering and burning of four Americans took place in the city's mosques. It was that atrocity that brought the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment into the city in the first place.
Simply because I did not snobbishly blast Christian fundamentalism, the way so many in the media often do, doesn't mean I was without judgment on it. In fact, I found it made troops more disciplined and compassionate. As for the "indiscriminate violence" of the Marines, that was simply not what I observed: rather, as I wrote from firsthand knowledge, Marines regularly risk getting shot to protect civilians.
I am in the midst of a project about the middle and lower ranks of the American military and how the world looks from their point of view. Meanwhile, the global media are full of people, like Mr. Rosen, who are more than willing to write about things from the viewpoint of those fighting the United States. The media establishment has often lavished praise on those who cover life exclusively from the point of view of oppressed minorities and the working poor. Apparently it doesn't consider America's own working-class military—drawn predominantly from the South and adjacent areas—deserving of similar empathy. Given the pressure on our military, and that the overwhelming majority of our troops around the world behave in an exemplary fashion, I am saddened by this double standard.
At the end of his article on John Kerry's foreign policy ("Kerry Faces the World," July/August Atlantic) Joshua Micah Marshall writes that Kerry Democrats do not believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has caused the current Middle East instability, though he says that the confrontations in the West Bank must be resolved before any U.S. effort to liberalize the region can succeed. Marshall says nothing further on the topic, and essentially ignores any dialogue about what may be the most crucial issue in U.S. foreign policy: the effect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now more than half a century old, on U.S. interests and safety. Does silence on this topic suggest a lack of new initiatives or thought from Kerry, or a failure on Marshall's part to sense a need for further discussion? This issue can only grow as the No. 1 foreign-policy sore point for the future.
The real failure of American foreign policy in the Middle East, where we are universally scorned, is that we have not connected the dots of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and terrorist attacks against the United States. The indignity felt by all Arabs, from Morocco to Dubai, as a result of land's being taken from Arabic-speaking people breeds contempt for the United States, with its platitudes of justice and fairness that don't seem to apply to Arabs. The Arab street and the Arab press are well aware that settlements in the West Bank are subsidized by the Israeli government, which receives U.S. foreign aid in the amount of $2 billion or more a year. And although not all Arabs are terrorists, they all recognize unfairness and a loss of dignity when land is taken and justice is applied selectively. As the Arab world continues to note the now obvious bias on land claims in Palestine, fringe elements in the street are further inspired to join the ranks of anti-U.S. terrorists.
I am not anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, but I am a recent reader of many history books about the region. Like the American Indians of the nineteenth century, the Palestinians got screwed. Can Kerry Democrats grasp this concept no more or less than Bush Republicans?
Colorado Springs, Colo.
As a veteran of two Clinton-era contingency operations, I found Joshua Marshall's reverence for Senator Kerry's foreign-policy wonks puzzling. Surely we aren't so far removed from the Clinton years that we look back on that era's shiftless foreign policy as a model of success. I make this point not to criticize the Clinton Administration but to suggest that the members of the "professional national-security apparatus" whom Marshall affords such praise may deserve more-critical scrutiny. One might even argue, in the post-9/11 world, that the approach they embodied then and espouse now is due for some tough reappraisal.
May I make the indelicate suggestion that the vehemence of ex—Clinton officials such as Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke, and Rand Beers flows from a combination of intellectual arrogance and concern for their own legacies? Although the situations in both Afghanistan and Iraq came to a head under the current Administration, no rational observer would conclude that either threat emerged overnight. In the former case the Clinton Administration chose to deal with Osama bin Laden with a few cruise missiles and other half-hearted measures. In the latter case, although the Administration adopted the policy of regime change in 1998—a policy Senator Kerry supported—it took little action to further this end. With that in mind, it seems disingenuous to entertain criticism of current policies from those who could have applied the ounce of prevention but failed to do so. The same could easily be said of our tensions with North Korea and Iran.
At the end of the day, Marshall's evaluation of the Kerry foreign-policy team suffers from a curious lack of patience. No one in the Bush Administration would argue, I believe, that the post-invasion operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have gone perfectly. As in any operation, numerous errors and miscalculations have occurred. Intelligence is never perfect, the enemy has a vote, and successful counterinsurgency, not to mention nation-building, takes time. With that in mind, I would remind readers that the Balkans, with a relatively Western mindset and history, remain home to a multinational force roughly a decade after the first intervention. Surely no one should expect miracles in the short run from operations in Afghanistan, a failed state that has never had a strong central government, or Iraq, a multi-ethnic state ruled by a dictator for the past three decades.
Although this is not a generous view, I submit that the brilliance now attributed to Senator Kerry's foreign-policy advisers was less apparent when they were in a position to demonstrate it directly. It is far easier to speak of what someone else should have done than to make the correct choices yourself. Of course, as always, history will be the judge.
Christopher Hitchens's gratuitous use of a Jewish caricature should not pass without comment. In his essay on Isaac Deutscher's Trotsky biography ("The Old Man," July/August Atlantic) Hitchens says the work is "written in the stern and judging manner of the Talmudic scholar that Deutscher had been"—selecting qualities that are stereotypically associated with the God of the Jews. This characterization has its roots in Christian supersessionism—the notion that the jealous and angry God of the Old Testament has been supplanted by the God of love of the New Testament. It is far from an accurate description of Jews or Judaism or Talmudic scholars. If Deutscher was indeed stern and judging, perhaps there were reasons other than his ethnic and religious origins. Christian polemic and ethnic stereotypes do not belong in an otherwise reasoned and thoughtful piece like this one.
Christopher Hitchens is my favorite journalist, but I question his nomination of Leon Trotsky for sainthood. After he'd lost power, Trotsky blathered on about human rights. When he had power, he was a routine Bolshevik thug whose solution to every problem was the firing squad.
Had he triumphed, Trotsky would most likely have been no more merciful to Stalin than Stalin was to him. If he had none of Stalin's paranoia, he had every bit of Stalin's ruthlessness and contempt for human decency. Slaughter is slaughter, even when driven by alleged idealism. Should we overlook that merely for his incisive writing style?
Bruce Hoffman makes many valid points regarding the situation in Iraq ("Plan of Attack," July/August Atlantic). However, his claims—that "the vigorousness of the insurgency … stems directly from the fact that … we failed to anticipate the widespread civil disorder and looting that followed the capture of Baghdad," and that in Iraq we are facing a new kind of "netwar"—are dubious.
It's impossible to prove that the guerrillas fighting us are more vigorous now than they would have been had museums in Baghdad not been looted. But the implication that but for the initial disorder the insurgency would not have taken root is facile. Hoffman points out that successful guerrilla groups evolve and adapt. In Iraq a solid core of ex-regime elements and (very soon after if not from the start) foreign fighters clearly had every intention of opposing the United States no matter what we did after our initial successes. With plenty of leftover munitions (possibly including chemical weapons), they had the means as well.
We've largely accepted the notion that this insurgency is somehow our fault. Our focus on the insurgents' disaffection obscures the fact that they would have fought regardless of our conduct. Long ago we called insurgents bandits. Today we sometimes call them terrorists. Either term portrays the enemy in Iraq more accurately than "insurgents," which means "rebels." Our enemies' motivations—greed, the pursuit of power, the urge to spread religious orthodoxies—have little to do with our conduct. Our enemies in Iraq are fighting us not because the postwar social climate led them to it but because that was always their intention. It furthers their goals as they perceive them.
Finally, "netwar" sounds like old wine in a new bottle. Ideologically opposed bands of guerrillas have frequently cooperated against a common enemy, and have often operated in loosely organized bands—like the Spanish partisans who gave us the word "guerrilla." Included in the mix may be ordinary adventurers and criminals. Tito's partisans were a large and well-organized band with a hierarchical structure; but elsewhere in Eastern European forests Polish Communists, Polish anti-Communists, Ukrainian nationalists, Soviet partisans, and Jewish partisans all fought the Nazis, often in loosely organized groups, sometimes cooperatively, sometimes not. What is happening in Iraq now is not new, it's atavistic.
Jonathan F. Keiler
Bruce Hoffman's meditation on security was perplexing. Hoffman says that elements in Iraq that were diametrically opposed during Saddam Hussein's reign, including secular Baathists and domestic and foreign religious extremists, are coming together around their resentment of the American occupation. Seen in hindsight, he says, the moral of the story is not to "let insurgencies get started in the first place." Good thing George III didn't know that.
Bruce Hoffman's recommendations are no more than common sense and so vague as to be useless. "Learn to recognize the signs of a budding insurgency." How is this done? "Study and understand the enemy in advance." How is this done when the enemy, without precedent in its history, collapses in the face of attack? Hoffman might as well have written, "We must improve education and living standards among poor Americans." Prescriptions are easy. Execution is hard.
Bruce Hoffman replies:
The vigor of the Iraqi insurgents has less to do with looted museums than with the numerous armories, arsenals, and arms caches that American forces neglected to secure following the invasion. As Jonathan Keiler himself observes, this oversight ensured an ample stream of weaponry that has sustained the insurgents since. But Mr. Keiler is mistaken in alleging that I blame the United States for the insurgency. Rather, my point is that the belief that we would be greeted as liberators blinded us to even the possibility of the resistance that Mr. Keiler argues was a foregone conclusion. We simply did not take into account the possibility, let alone the implications, of any significant post-invasion Iraqi armed resistance. Mr. Keiler is correct that diverse bands of guerrillas cooperating with one another are not new. What is new in Iraq, however, is the hitherto unfathomable alliances (however ephemeral) between Sunni and Shia, religious and secular, nationalist and foreigner, and the strategic impact they have had on Iraqi stability—something Eastern European partisans during World War II were never able to achieve.
The lesson of the Iraqi insurgency is indeed as timeless as Shelley Masar writes. Just as George III doubtless dismissed the eighteenth-century American rebels as inconsequential "dead enders" and "criminals," so the potential political and military ramifications of the Iraqi insurgents were derided. The lesson in both cases is that once insurgencies erupt and are allowed to gather momentum, they become exponentially more difficult to defeat.
Toni Mack is correct that my recommendations are "no more than common sense," but wrong that they are "useless." The two RAND reports I referred to contain all the specifics that for reasons of space could not be included in the article. To take one example, they describe how building an efficient indigenous police force—with a dedicated intelligence arm—has permitted authorities elsewhere not only to learn about the intentions and capabilities of actual and potential adversaries but also to thwart nascent acts of violence before they can escalate into full-blown insurgency. Finally, the ease of prescription in comparison with the challenges of execution were never clearer to me than this past spring, when I worked on both policy and implemention in Iraq.
P. J. O'Rourke is a witty and insightful observer of contemporary political life, but his cleverness gets the better of him at one point in the otherwise admirable essay "I Agree With Me" (July/August Atlantic). In the midst of lamenting the way that political pundits on radio and in print eschew substantive debate or persuasion in favor of preaching to the choir, he inserts a couple of quips about listening to National Public Radio to hear the message of the other side: "World to end—poor and minorities hardest hit." Although the stereotype of public broadcasting as liberal propaganda is standard among conservatives, it is utterly ungrounded. Its audience may be fairly liberal, but no one who listened to NPR's extraordinarily respectful week of retrospectives following Ronald Reagan's death could seriously label the network partisan. In contrast to the ideological pundits of the right and the left whom O'Rourke treats in his essay, NPR has embodied the highest standards of balance, intelligence, and moderation that one could expect from a broadcast medium.
As a brief aside in a humorous essay whose main targets lay elsewhere, this comment about NPR wouldn't merit criticism except for two things. First, for a writer normally so attuned to the ironies and self-contradictions of the politically naive, O'Rourke seems to miss the irony involved in employing one of the classic strategies used by partisans to manipulate moderates in an essay otherwise devoted to complaining about how partisan games disrupt substantive political debate. Second, he should know full well that NPR includes conservative voices, because his is one of them. His appearances on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me are just one bit of evidence among many that NPR is not the liberal mouthpiece of conservatives' imagining but a forum that (much like The Atlantic) gives space to original ideas and well-wrought words wherever on the political spectrum they may be found. O'Rourke's brand of conservatism is usually free of the angry, meanspirited, and humorless tone he criticizes in his colleagues, and thus it seems a bit small of him in this essay to take a nip at the (very even) hands that feed him.
P. J. O'Rourke replies:
I had no idea NPR was so conservative. If I'd known that they, too, agree with me, I would have quit listening years ago.
Mark Bowden's article on what makes Al Sharpton tick ("Pompadour With a Monkey Wrench," July/August Atlantic) was fascinating. It was marred only by a curious emphasis on hair. I suppose black hair and skin are interesting to a lot of people, but they do not define who we are. I was disappointed to see that the stereotype of conked (chemically straightened) hair was used in Bowden's description of the dapper Adam Clayton Powell. Powell, who obviously had just as many European genes as he did African, if not more, had naturally straight hair. That is true of thousands of African-Americans, including Walter White, Julian Bond, and Thurgood Marshall, to name a few of obvious mixed racial heritage.
Highland Springs, Va.
Mark Bowden's article on Al Sharpton pokes holes in a boat that needs sinking, but his glibness betrays what may be his own bias. First, it is interesting that Bowden so handily dismisses national health care and any welfare system as failures contributing to ballooning deficits, noting that their viability is disproved by "the disastrous history of … socialist schemes worldwide." In a word, it seems that such things are simply passé. My reading of our current deficit has little to do with entitlement programs, endangered as they are. Try the dismantling of our tax system and a bloated military budget as root causes of our current financial mess. And regarding the socialist schemes, are we talking about Poland and Romania or Canada and Sweden? It's an amazing argument that gets rid of the idea of national health care in one sentence.
Second, Bowden seems to set up a straw man. He proves that Sharpton is not a serious African-American candidate, and then says Sharpton's failure shows that race is no longer an issue among African-Americans, and that they wouldn't necessarily support a serious candidate of their background. But how would Colin Powell have done in the African-American community? If Sharpton had any credibility at all, his numbers would have been much greater. Sharpton's failure demonstrates that African-Americans won't be taken in by a huckster, even one who says he is speaking for them. Whether we like it or not, race is still an issue.
What a pleasure to read Paul Maslin, who is humble and self-aware, and willing to shoulder blame for his part in the Dean campaign screw-ups ("The Front-Runner's Fall," May Atlantic). I hope he finds another job on another campaign, since he is honest, introspective, and willing to learn from the past.
I strongly supported Howard Dean and the potential for positive change in the United States. Thus I read with great interest Paul Maslin's article on why Dean lost. I could not disagree more with his conclusions.
Dean went down so easily because he was very poorly served by his campaign staff, of which Maslin was a key part. In Dean the staff had a populist and, by American standards, an unconventional politician who threatened real change to the status quo. This real threat of change was symbolized by his unconventional campaign tactics, which allowed him to maneuver outside the control of that status quo.
Dean's staffers seem to have been caught completely off guard and failed to anticipate the attacks of the media and the Democratic Party—which, of course, competent staffers would have understood were all but guaranteed.
At the first hint of pressure they immediately folded. Instead of embracing the reality that Dean was a passionate man willing to give strong emotional voice to an integrated belief system, they capitulated and immediately tried to make him look like any other moderate-speaking, stale, safe "establishment" politician. It is no surprise that the media and the party machine would go out of their way to attack those aspects of Howard Dean that were his strengths. By their actions the staffers basically were telling everyone that they agreed that Dean's strengths were weaknesses. Of course the outcome was easily foreseen.
Like peasant rebels, Dean's staffers used guerrilla tactics against a lumbering empire with great success. But like a lot of stupid peasants, they really didn't know what they were doing, and thought their success would allow them to fight the empire on the empire's own terms. Like all peasants who have tried this, they got obliterated in short order.
I read with interest Paul Maslin's account of the fall of Governor Howard Dean's campaign, having been a volunteer for Senator John Edwards for five days leading up to the Iowa caucuses. I have several observations, based on my experience:
Iowa Democrats did not become sick and tired only of the "Perfect Storm" phone calls and visits; they were tired of calls and visits from all the major campaigns. I spent many hours on such "canvassing" from the Friday before the caucuses through the Monday they were held, and bore the brunt of many an irate callee's outrage. And I think that outrage was justified. As the final days went by, campaigns focused more and more on the voters they had coded as "undecided." From what those Iowans told me, at least one and often several phone calls or visits per day from each of the four main campaigns was common. Voters who declared their allegiance early and unequivocally (coded as "ones" in the Dean campaign, "twos" in the Edwards) were bothered the least—until caucus day, when Edwards "twos" received two phone calls and one visit each. So despite the fact that the number of Dean volunteers (many times the number of Edwards volunteers) went far beyond the point of diminishing returns and "deep into overkill," as Maslin wrote, it can't be said that this was a cause of Dean's fall. Iowa Democrats were tired of all of us.
Why did the campaigns push the canvassing tactic so hard? I would guess that it was an instance of "everyone else is doing it, so we better too, or we might not be taken seriously." The constant exhortation from Des Moines was to "make one more call," because that's what Kerry's, Gephardt's, and Dean's people were doing. Further, I suspect that the idea that "the best organization wins" played a role—though in this case quantity was mistaken for quality.
It's hard to believe that Dean's comment that "the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer" made any significant difference in the outcome of the campaign. Polling numbers may suggest that's the case, as Maslin says in his article, but the antiwar (and anti-Bush) feeling had reached such a fever pitch among Iowa Democrats in the days leading up to the caucuses that any criticism of President Bush and the war met with approval. There was almost a "groupthink" mentality about the issues of the war and jobs and trade: the populist arguments fed on themselves, and were accepted as gospel by the time of the caucuses. (Senator Joe Lieberman, it follows, was correct to skip Iowa.)
The "chip-on-my-shoulder" strategy Dean adopted was the best thing that ever happened to his opponents—except Gephardt, whose fear of losing guaranteed a loss. For everyone else, Dean became the attack dog; they could take the high road and appear "presidential." Surely Dean was simply being Dean, an admirable trait; but surely his staff should have advised him to change his tone long before the infamous scream.
In the event, Kerry got exactly what he needed from Iowa: a win. My candidate, Edwards, came close to getting what he wanted. Second place was fine, but not second place to Kerry; Edwards's strategy of ending as one of two final candidates became reality, but ideally the other remaining candidate would have been Maslin's boss.
Why did men of Paul Maslin's and Joe Trippi's obvious intellectual brilliance allow themselves to be used by a candidate who repeatedly demonstrated his lack of fitness for the office he was seeking? Maslin writes, "Our candidate's erratic judgment, loose tongue, and overall stubbornness wore our spirits down," and says that the candidate was in sore need of an adult handler; he describes with clear objectivity the hypocrisy of Mr. Open Government's refusing to unseal his records as governor of Vermont. Yet Maslin seems downright wistful, blaming himself for allowing a negative ad to run in Iowa—an ad that backfired. He writes, "Had the vote been closer, I believe, there would have been no 'I have a scream' speech on caucus night." Or, if I may be permitted to paraphrase, "If only we had done a better job of protecting the true candidate from the American people, we might have gotten what we wanted: a Howard Dean presidency." Am I missing something?
Philip C. Williams
Paul Maslin's view that positioning Howard Dean as "the" candidate opposing the Iraq War and Dick Gephardt as "the" pro-war candidate ignored John Kerry and John Edwards seems to answer only half the question of why this contributed to Dean's loss in Iowa. Where in the polling were Iowans' sentiments toward the war itself assessed? If a majority believed that the United States should be in Iraq, then of course Dean's rejection of further military spending would have done him a disservice.
Paul Maslin replies:
Presidential campaigns are never easy to dissect, and this one was more complex than most. I do believe that the following statements apply: 1) Consultants almost never deserve all the credit they receive when their candidates win, and they nearly always manage to deflect some of the blame they're due when their candidates lose. 2) A campaign—for better or worse—is generally a reflection of the candidate. I tried, perhaps unsuccessfully, to write an account of a part of the Dean campaign mindful of each statement—on the one hand, an honest assessment of what went wrong, including some self-criticism; and on the other, a window into the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate.
Howard Dean awakened the Democratic Party in the spring and summer of 2003. The benefits he gained from that act far surpassed anyone's expectations, and were enhanced by both luck and bold action from him and his campaign team. And then it all came tumbling down. I would try to summarize the different strains of the Iowa experience this way: Did our loss have more to do with organizational failure—that is, the Iowa ground operation—or with communication? Clearly the latter. Was paid media advertising more important as a factor in the demise than so-called "free" media coverage? No. Was Dean killed off by an establishment, including our opponents and the media, that was uncomfortable with or threatened by his persona and message? Or by voters who moved beyond those initially attractive elements to different criteria? Or by mistakes made by both him and his campaign team? I think by a little of everything, though I lean toward the middle answer as the most decisive. And John Kerry had become a pretty darn good candidate by the end of 2003.
To the specific charge from Thomas DeChastelain that the campaign staff did not "get it": I like the almost Tolstoyan imagery of peasants attacking an empire—I imagine pulling out a scythe to rip through the unflattering newspaper articles that accumulated throughout 2003. Seriously, though, this is one of the hardest aspects of the Dean experience to convey to those on the outside, because although the major players agreed on how we should address the war and the need to give voice to the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," we were uncertain—as was the candidate—about the question of "real change to the status quo."
The best illustration of this is that since the primary season ended, Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, has said that "Dean didn't believe in his own message," and Dean himself has said that he should have shifted his tone to be more presidential by the fall of 2003—"safer," to use Mr. DeChastelain's term—and, presumably, less "rabble-rousing." Yet Dean absolutely believed in the power of saying to voters, as he memorably did throughout the campaign, "You have the power." I guess the best way to summarize it is that we were united when it came to the need to discuss empowerment, but not so much in sync about what that empowerment really should be. But I profoundly disagree that any of us were surprised by the nature and intensity of the attacks Dean's candidacy generated; we were probably more surprised that they were so ineffective for so long.
To Nan Doyle: As you can see from Andrew Steele's letter, Iowans were extremely anti—Iraq War, in every respect. The best evidence of this is the caucus results themselves—nearly nine in ten Iowans caucused for a candidate who had opposed President Bush's request for additional funding for Iraq (as Dean did and Kerry and Edwards did not). The one nuance that helped the two senators is that most Iowans had essentially traveled the same path as Kerry and Edwards: initially supportive and trusting of Bush, then more skeptical, and eventually very critical—so they actually more or less gave both men a pass when it came to their original vote to go to war. Dick Gephardt—the congressional leader Iowans knew best, and a more vocal supporter of the war—didn't receive this free pass, and saw his candidacy hurt by the issue. The praise Dean initially received for his courage in standing against the war was replaced by a more skeptical attitude about his overall foreign-policy credentials combined with a feeling that "there's no real difference" between the top candidates in terms of their basic messages.
Philip Mangano's proposed solution to the problem of homelessness may be perfectly correct ("The Abolitionist," by Douglas McGray, June Atlantic), but surely it is legitimate to question the Bush Administration's commitment to "research-and-data-driven, performance-based, and results-oriented" action when that Administration has taken exactly the opposite approach to terrorism, Iraq, climate change, missile defense, stem-cell research, air pollution, the morning-after pill, and the deficit.
Philip Mangano's brand of abolitionism may make for impassioned rhetoric, but it does little to appropriately honor our rich history or provide much of a road map out of homelessness. Rather than continue an American tradition of social justice, the Bush Administration has focused its efforts on what it calls "chronic" homelessness, suggesting a medical solution where an economic one is needed. This is an especially unconscionable strategy given the concurrent cuts to housing programs such as Section 8, which serves extremely low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled. It also conveniently shifts attention away from a larger, equally vulnerable population of people experiencing homelessness: young children. Without access to programs and services, they will surely become the "chronically homeless" of tomorrow.
Are there cost savings in what the Administration is peddling? Sure. But Dennis Culhane's insolent observation that outreach workers and emergency-shelter managers are "threatened ideologically and financially" by the Administration's shift in emphasis is loaded with bitter irony. Indeed, although a certain housing "industry" with a financial stake has steadily emerged in tandem with the current policies, providers of emergency shelter are hardly the beneficiaries of such a windfall. In fact it is Culhane's own published research and consulting work that largely underpin the Bush Administration's homelessness policy, and at the same time guarantee his place on the payroll and in the press. It is also a particularly insipid claim that people who provide emergency services are "threatened," considering that a full one third of homeless families seeking shelter are turned away for lack of space.
In the end, neither liberals nor compassionate conservatives may offer new thinking on the issue, but to speak of liberal hegemony on national housing policy when the HUD budget has been slashed by 64 percent since 1978 is disingenuous at best. The abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison once cautioned not to "tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm." Sadly, it seems the President's homelessness czar has taken his good name and done precisely that.
Executive Director National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness
Some six years ago, while working for Albuquerque HealthCare for the Homeless, I had a chance to see Philip Mangano address a group of advocates for the homeless. His energy and ability to understand the daily reality of that world, while maintaining a passionate vision, made for a man after my own heart. Though not wanting to leave my place because of the excellent training and experience it offered, I would have gone to work for Mangano immediately. And still would. I'm an ex-junkie, but I'm an ex-junkie who likes to read, and hearing Mangano discuss Les Misérables and its message of redemption in front of a room full of college-degreed liberals was truly inspiring. Passion and vision, coupled with a willing attitude, will solve every problem we have. Though it pains me to say it, the Bush Administration is to be commended for following Mangano's vision.
Mark Bowden's "Lessons of Abu Ghraib" (July/August Atlantic) raised several excellent points and represents one of the more balanced interpretations of the matter. Two points warrant clarification, though.
First, greater detail will be available as the investigations proceed, but it is important to caution against the oft made assertion that interrogation techniques that required the approval of higher authorities—as has been the case in both Iraq and Guantánamo—had anything to do with what was represented in those photos.
Second, the characterization of Secretary Rumsfeld's mindset in the final paragraph is just wrong. Rumsfeld testified to Congress on May 7 that he found the photos "fundamentally un-American." Those in the chain of command did in fact think the activities depicted in the photos were a "very big deal" (Bowden's words), even before they saw the photos. That is why military commanders in Iraq immediately initiated criminal investigations when a soldier first reported the alleged abuses in January; why the facts of the case as they were known at the time were publicly announced in January and in March (well before the Taguba report and the photos were leaked to the press); and why several administrative investigations, parallel to the criminal investigations, were initiated to determine how widespread such activities might be.
There was no "long initial silence" in this matter. The Taguba report had been completed, and the process leading to the military equivalent of grand-jury investigations begun, prior to the release of the photos. It is understandable that the actual photos provided shock value well beyond that of any number of briefings, public announcements, and investigations, as thorough and as proper as they may have been.
Lawrence Di Rita
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
Mark Bowden raises some good questions regarding the behavior of the prison guards and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's failure to address the issue before it was made public.
Rumsfeld's complacence should have come as no surprise. Amnesty International, the Red Cross, and other organizations have been reporting in no uncertain terms on alleged instances of torture and other mistreatment of Iraqis by coalition forces during the past year. Furthermore, Amnesty International has since 2002 continually raised concerns with senior White House and Department of Defense officials regarding illegal interrogation practices used with prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere.
Therefore, what I find most disturbing is not Rumsfeld's initial silence and apparent lack of concern for the abuse of prisoners, which is clearly nothing new. Rather, it is the fact that no one in the Bush Administration chose to address the issue until the pictures hit the television screens and informed the world of what was happening.
One wonders what other atrocities may remain hidden behind the Bush Administration's shield of secrecy.
Mary T. Shaw
Amnesty International USA
"Lessons of Abu Ghraib" included an interesting phrase: "The photos from Abu Ghraib prison portray Americans as exactly the sexually obsessed, crude, arrogant, godless …" Since when is being godless such a bad trait? The last time I checked, we were at war with religious extremists who are not godless. I would prefer any day to live in a world full of godless people.
Vickie Sandell Stangl
"Lessons of Abu Ghraib" reminded me of a point I haven't seen anyone take up. I recall seeing Senator James Inhofe speaking at some committee hearing shortly after the tape of Nicholas Berg's execution was released. He said that the pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib depicted the aberrant acts of a few rotten apples, and that the people of Iraq should not lower their opinion of Americans because of them. He said that not all American soldiers should be lumped in with those in the photographs. But in the very next breath he said, of Berg's killing, That's just the kind of people that we're dealing with over there (I am paraphrasing).
I am not trying to draw a parallel between the actions of U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib and those of the men who killed Berg. I do cringe, though, at the double standard. Whereas Inhofe's first remark doubtless did little or nothing to improve Iraqis' opinions of Americans, I expect his second one did quite a lot of damage.
Mark Bowden comments that "the President has spoken out against torture" and goes on to mention reports that Administration lawyers last year codified "the 'aggressive' methods of interrogation permitted at U.S. detention facilities." If those reports are true, he writes, the lawyers "effectively authorized in advance the use of coercion."
Bowden is correct; Bush did speak out against torture—but not until after the use of such torture became known worldwide. A number of months ago, when Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly stated that torture might well be justified (a convoluted way of telling us that it would be used), Bush did not speak out—thus giving it his tacit approval and authorization. As of June 8 The New York Times had obtained a copy of a fifty-six-page confidential memo, prepared by those Justice Department lawyers in March of 2003, stating that as Commander-in-Chief, Bush is not bound to ban torture.
Bowden concludes that maybe Rumsfeld simply wasn't shocked. It seems fair to assume that he was not shocked, since the Abu Ghraib photos depicted only what had already received Justice Department, Pentagon, and White House approval.
Patricia M. Koster
By the time I got to the end of B. R. Myers's book review "Nasty, Brutish, and Short" (April Atlantic), I had to check the cover to make sure I hadn't mistakenly picked up some PETA tract. Does Myers seriously think he'll win meat eaters over to vegetarianism by comparing them to child molesters? Or was the review meant as a parody of PETA's extremism?
Leaving aside the fact that the human race evolved as omnivores and that we most likely would never have acquired our highly proficient brains through vegetarianism, no soy product could ever replicate to any degree a perfectly barbecued steak. I was a vegetarian for many years, and I was never fooled by any of the faux meats. And anyway, if I'm going to eat vegetables, I'll eat them as vegetables; I'm not going to pretend they're meat. But after my husband and I bought a house and a gas grill, I found myself salivating over what I'd given up in college in a fit of youthful idealism. Besides, what's the point of having fought our way to the top of the food chain just to give it all up for soyburgers?
Silver Spring, Md.
B. R. Myers replies:
In my piece I conceded that faux meat is "just not the same." I also argued that the choice to forgo it for the real, blood-dripping thing, like the choice to molest a child, comes down to a person's deciding that a perceived increase in pleasure justifies making another being suffer. In missing this point Linda Felaco ends up proving it, since her argument for eating meat can easily be transposed into a defense of child molestation: cavemen did it, and it's fun for the party that has fought its way "to the top"—so why not? In all the excitement of owning a gas grill, Felaco has forgotten what she knew in college: that our highly proficient brains evolved to do more than trigger our saliva.
Having just returned from Greece, where I rode several inter-island ferries, I read William Langewiesche's hair-raising "A Sea Story" (May Atlantic) with great interest. Langewiesche said nothing, however, about the design of the openable bow that led to the sinking of the Estonia or, more important, about what lessons were learned and what, if any, changes were made.
The designers of the Greek ferries seem to have gotten it right. The boats employ huge doors at the stern that are hinged at the bottom and swing down from the top, thus providing a ramp for vehicles and passengers. The boats have thrusters that allow them to enter a small island port, turn 180 degrees on a dime, and back into the dock—all in a matter of seconds and without tugs or other assistance. It is quite an amazing operation, given the enormous size of the craft.
New York, N.Y.
William Langewiesche writes that the ferry Estonia's engines were "fully throttled up." None of the more than a hundred fishing vessels I have been on has ever "fully throttled up" its engines while I have been aboard—I presume for reasons of engine life and fuel efficiency. Did the Estonia actually run at its full horsepower? Is this practice usual for ferries and other nonfishing boats? Or was it careless and reckless?
William Langewiesche is always able to paint vivid pictures with his words. But after reading the Estonia article I was left with many unanswered questions. How did anybody survive in mountainous seas while clinging only to debris flung off the ship? How were they rescued? Were there repercussions for the owners or the builders of the Estonia, given that the loading doors were defective or improperly closed? Are similar oceangoing ferries safer today because of this tragedy?
Mt. Prospect, Ill.
Many technical issues about the sinking of the Estonia, along with a discussion of ferry safety and the legal regime that governs shipping, can be found in William Langewiesche's new book, The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime.
Reading William F. Buckley's piece "Aweigh" (July/August Atlantic) reminded me that before my books started getting published, I supported my writing addiction by refinishing brightwork on yachts. After carefully studying my clients and their cohorts, and in an effort to assist them even further, I wrote an open letter to the head of the American Psychiatric Association in a vain attempt to have him recognize recreational boat owners (RBOs) as mentally disturbed. After all, any group that sees its heads as toilets definitely needs help. Buckley's essay about selling his sailboat—often referred to as the second happiest day of an RBO's life, the first being the day it was bought—adds proof to my contention that this subgroup of RBOs, sailboat owners, suffer the worst. They constantly demonstrate classic passive-aggressive signs by not sailing with the wind but, rather, avoiding such a course with sly manipulations they call "tacking." They become models of self-victimization, with traces of a persecution complex, when they encounter no wind: they call that state being "in irons." And they show their grandiosity by terming bow platforms "pulpits" and motorized yachts "stink pots." I shall redouble my efforts by citing Buckley's essay.
Fredric Alan Maxwell
Ann Arbor, Mich.
I enjoyed Joshua Green's article on campaign advertising ("Dumb and Dumber," July/August Atlantic). What was lacking, however, was an explanation of why negative advertising is more effective today.
Green explains that current campaign advertising is actually similar to that of the 1950s (Ike brought Madison Avenue specialists into the presidential campaign). If so, then why are negative ads more effective today than in the past? Clearly the number of negative ads has increased markedly since the 1950s.
I think the answer lies in research data familiar to those who study U.S. elections—data suggesting a decline of the political party. Up until the 1970s party identification tended to be an important clue to how voters made decisions. The political party provided, in the words of cognitive psychologists, an important shortcut to decision-making. When political-party membership became less important than success in political primaries, voters typically began to pay more attention to political advertising. At about the same time, not surprisingly, the number of negative ads began to increase. Instead of the party, voters now used political advertising as a shortcut to decision-making. And, as Green notes, negative advertising is very effective.
Christopher S. Kelley
In his "Wonders Never Cease" (July/August Atlantic), Cullen Murphy performs a public service by noting that mortality from cancer of the colon can be greatly reduced by regular checkups for people over the age of fifty. Unfortunately, he then goes on to describe colonoscopy as "profoundly unpleasant."
I have had two colonoscopies, and they are on a par with having one's teeth cleaned, not "profoundly unpleasant." The preparation is something that an adult should be able to take in stride; the patient is asleep during the procedure itself; and patients experience no discomfort at all after the procedure. A colonoscopy is not a big deal.
I should have had a colonoscopy when I turned fifty, but I didn't—partly because it was easy to procrastinate and partly because I believed what I read about how disagreeable the procedure was. I finally had one when I was fifty-four, and was given a diagnosis of colon cancer. Because I had waited so long, the cancer had spread to my lungs. Now, after surgery and two years of chemotherapy, I still have cancer. A colonoscopy at fifty would have caught the cancer at a relatively early stage, the polyps could have been snipped out, and I would be fine today.
Cullen Murphy and other authors have no responsibility to preach the gospel of early colonoscopies. And it is the responsibility of people like me to get colonoscopies when they should. But if an author is going to write about colonoscopies, he should present an accurate picture.
Robert J. Spitzer (Letters to the Editor, June Atlantic) elegantly demonstrates the gun-averse attitude common in the social sciences over the past two or three generations. Constitutional scholars, on the other hand, on both left and right, have established a "standard model" of interpretation of the Second Amendment, rediscovering the understanding of the first five generations after its adoption. In Presser v. United States (1886), the Supreme Court opined that the inapplicability of the Second Amendment to state action notwithstanding, states could not infringe upon their citizens' right to keep and bear arms, lest the federal government be denied the services of armed private citizens in what is now called in federal law the "unorganized militia" (all men of military age not in active service or the National Guard—with a few exceptions—and some women). Even during World War II more than half the states called on privately armed individuals to guard vital areas and facilities. Further, federal law authorizes states to form defense forces outside the National Guard and the Naval Militia (together the "organized militia of the United States"). And then there's the posse comitatus, most famously activated by a Colorado sheriff after the notorious Ted Bundy escaped jail.
Contrary to even some current opinion, a wealth of contemporaneous information is available regarding the intent of the Founders and their generation concerning an armed citizenry, which has only been amplified by extensive Fourteenth Amendment scholarship.
Professor Spitzer even manages to underestimate Congress's intent when it passed the Brady Law: "No department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States may … require that any record or portion thereof generated by the … National Instant Check System be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or political subdivision thereof." It also prohibits establishing "any system for the registration of firearms, firearm owners or firearm transactions or dispositions" except for those persons prohibited from receiving a firearm. Even Ashcroft's twenty-four-hour "compromise" arguably violates the law, but Spitzer wants to ignore it entirely.
If he doesn't like the Second Amendment and the Brady Law, he must hate the New York Civil Rights Law. It contains the exact wording of the amendment, except that "cannot" is substituted for "shall not." Maybe he doesn't fully agree with the common understanding of a "civil right" either. The American Civil Liberties Union certainly does not, holding that any individual right to possess arms may extend only to the privacy of one's home. Since when is self-defense a "privacy right"? Since Roe v. Wade, I guess.
William J. Durr
Mark Steyn, whose name looks Netherlandish, seems not to know much Netherlandish history when he writes that with the loss of the Dutch East Indies, "Juliana became the first Queen of the Netherlands in almost half a millennium to be reduced to being Queen merely of the Netherlands" ("The Prototypical Bicycling Monarch," June Atlantic). A Netherlands monarchy had existed only since 1815, before which members of the House of Orange-Nassau were Stadtholders of some or all of the United Provinces, a sort of stand-in for a nonexistent monarch who before the Dutch Revolt against Spain might have been a Hapsburg and afterward was a purely fictitious personage. The Dutch had in fact lived in republican fashion since the medieval period, whatever the name of their nominal rulers might have been.
Nathan Littlefield writes in "Rich, Famous, Incarcerated" (June Atlantic) that the Reverend James Bakker was sentenced to forty-five years for fraud. True, but an appellate court found that Judge Potter, whose nickname is "Maximum Bob," had abused his discretion by referring to his own religious principles when he stated: "He [Bakker] had no thought whatever about his victims and those of us who do have a religion are ridiculed as being saps from money-grubbing preachers or priests." The prosecutor unsuccessfully argued during the appeal that "those of us" referred not to the judge himself but to society.
The appellate court ordered re-sentencing before a new judge, who gave Bakker eighteen years. Bakker did four years and was released for six months in a halfway house. Parole from federal sentences has long since been abolished, and strict sentence guidelines have led to a harsh "truth in sentencing."
Far Hills, N.J.
I would like to thank you and compliment Martha Spaulding for the exceptional article on John P. Marquand ("'Martini-Age Victorian,'" May Atlantic). For quite a while I was fairly certain I was the last person left in North America still reading Marquand's works. It is gratifying to know that there is at least one other member of this small and exclusive (as Marquand undoubtedly would have preferred) club. Marquand was a great author (through the 1940s and 1950s he had more best sellers than Hemingway or Steinbeck, and in 1943 So Little Time outsold both A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Human Comedy) in that his gift of nuance had readers reading as much between the lines as he had put on the actual page. And although some of his works are better than others (Timothy Dexter, Revisited is practically unreadable), it is a shame that his best works are to a large extent completely forgotten today, despite an appeal that should transcend time and history. How many former soldiers in America today might identify with Jeffrey Wilson in So Little Time as they ponder their frustrated inability to "do something" after September 11, and watch as their son or daughter leaves home to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan?
Regarding Mercille Wells's comment on Aryn Kyle's May story, "Foaling Season" (Letters to the Editor, July/August Atlantic): The scleras of all horses are white. You just can't see the white unless they roll their eyes in excitement or fright, as in Kyle's story. An appaloosa is described as having white scleras when an easily seen white area completely encircles the iris of the eye. But visible scleras, partially or completely surrounding the iris, occur in many breeds—I have seen the characteristic in quarter horses, thoroughbreds, and Arabians.
Walnut Creek, Calif.
Sandra Tsing Loh's review of Paco Underhill's Call of the Mall ("Shopworn," June Atlantic) begins with a quotation from the book: "Increasingly, cities are becoming the province of the rich, the childless, or the poor." Virtually the same statement was made by the sociologist William Whyte Jr. in his introduction to the influential 1958 collection The Exploding Metropolis, an examination of the suburban boom that sparked mall culture. Whyte wrote that the American city was "becoming a place of extremes—a place for the very poor, or the very rich, or the slightly odd." Moreover, like Underhill, Whyte admitted that he and his collaborators were "people that like cities," but he acknowledged that the suburbs were becoming "the norm of American aspiration." How little some things have changed.
Regarding Stewart B. Herman's letter about Maya MacGuineas's "Radical Tax Reform" (Letters to the Editor, May Atlantic): Putting aside the arrogant tone, Herman makes some valid points and should be congratulated for making the most of the opportunities offered to him. He states that he spent years without an income while he was preparing himself for a professional career. During that time someone had to clothe him, feed him, provide for transportation, insurance, housing, and tuition. Someone also taught him to make the right choices with those opportunities.
Wouldn't it be nice if we were all afforded the opportunity to make such choices? As for the underclasses Herman derides, say what you want about their choices, but don't confuse choice with opportunity.
Re "Greed on Trial," by Alex Beam (June Atlantic): Articles on trial attorneys' fees miss the point; Beam makes no reference to society's increasing need to rely on the private bar for justice, or to monitor corporate behavior. The article might have included information, for example, about how many complaints concerning patient care against physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, HMOs, and laboratories are actually investigated and go to hearing. The few that go forward under the auspices of state regulation rarely go to full hearing. Less tax money, fewer civil servants, and more complaints induce state agencies to make ludicrous settlements so that they can reduce an overwhelming caseload. Often the cost of corporations' own trial attorneys is a greater financial penalty on corporate behavior than any fines that might be imposed. Without the accountability occasionally imposed by private lawsuits, corporate abusers would go scot-free. Perhaps if Massachusetts had had enough resources, its attorney general's office could have handled much of the trial preparation in-house.
Las Vegas, Nev.