Letters to the editor
What a charming idea it is to bring science to the study of matchmaking—if only the people Lori Gottlieb interviewed (“How Do I Love Thee?” March Atlantic) were doing it. It was disheartening to learn that Helen Fisher has uncritically adopted the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which, scientifically speaking, is no advance over the theory of the four humors. (Come to think of it, why not match choleric people with phlegmatic mates?) One study of the Myers-Briggs found that fewer than half of the respondents scored as the same type only a few weeks later, and there is little evidence to support the test’s key premise: that knowledge of a person’s type reliably predicts behavior on the job or in relationships.
Gottlieb was also caught by one of the oldest cons in the pop-personality biz: the supposed “personality profile.” She took the Duet test and was classified as “Risk Averse, High Energy, Cautious, and Seeks Variety.” (A good rule of thumb is to avoid any test that describes you in Capital Letters, let alone in self-contradictory terms.) “The site then interpreted the findings, which, to my surprise, rather accurately captured my personality,” says Ms. Gottlieb. Well, yes and no. When people believe that a description was written just for them—whether it’s the result of a personality assessment, horoscope, or handwriting analysis—they are always amazed: “It describes me!” So common is this phenomenon that teachers love to demonstrate it in large classrooms—you give your 300 students the identical “profile,” and they all think it was tailor-made for them. Psychologists call this the Barnum Effect, because P. T. Barnum knew you had to “have a little something for everybody.” The profiles are vague enough to apply to almost everybody, they are flattering, and they incorporate all possibilities.
The two factors that best predict successful matches are awfully low-tech: proximity and similarity. Computer matchers can help people with the latter, but please—can’t we just claim it’s a fun and interesting way for like-minded people to meet, and leave pseudoscientific theories of dopamine and Capital Letters out of it?
Co-author of Psychology
Los Angeles, Calif.
While Lori Gottlieb’s article made for interesting reading, I was disappointed that she did not press Neil Clark Warren on his company’s policy of excluding gay and lesbian clients. Although the first Frequently Asked Question listed on the eHarmony Web site is “Why won’t you accept separated members?” nowhere is there an explanation of the assumption that men must only seek women and women must only seek men.
My ardor for The Atlantic has diminished considerably since reading Lori Gottlieb’s “How Do I Love Thee?” What was billed as “the new science of love” was in fact a rehashing of the worst sort of pop psychology. I’m sure that many of your readers with a scientific background were startled to discover that personality is completely determined by four or five neurotransmitters; that an anthropologist has determined which genes are responsible for calm, stability, popularity, and religiosity; and that seminal fluid can induce romantic love.
Trust is an essential part of any relationship. Any more articles like this and I’m afraid my long-lasting affair with The Atlantic will be over.
Reading Lori Gottlieb’s article, I wondered why, rather than just interviewing dating-service creators, she didn’t interview some of the people who actually used those dating services. Also, in fairness to the dating services, I wish Ms. Gottlieb had dated the three “matches” she got from eHarmony.com. I’d like to see if they, upon further examination, were better matches than she thought, or if her first impressions were accurate.
Clive Crook’s defense of corporations and free-market capitalism in the United States (“Capitalism: The Movie,” March Atlantic) reminds me of Gandhi’s description of Christianity as a wonderful religion—if it could only be put into practice somewhere. Even a cursory glance at the corporations and industries in the United States demonstrates how great the distance is between Crook’s idealized picture of a consumer-dominated marketplace determining winners and losers and the truth of how our society functions. In most areas, the government has forced its way into the picture, distorting any free and open marketplace, usually to protect and subsidize the rich and powerful. In transportation, the railroads initially were given very profitable land, without cost, the airlines received exceptionally profitable air-mail contracts, and the trucking industry depends entirely on the expensive national highway system. In agriculture, there are subsidies on top of subsidies on top of tariffs, from sugar to farm parity payments for many commodities. In manufacturing, there are absurd governmental contracts (to Halliburton, Bechtel, etc.), whole industries (airframe manufacture, heavy machinery) that rely on government purchases, and ridiculous protective patents and copyrights. And, of course, the written organs of information (printing and publishing) have never paid their way in the postal marketplace, receiving extraordinary subsidies.
No, it won’t wash. The government is in there everywhere, adjusting, regulating, fixing, charging, sponsoring, subsidizing, etc.
Dr. A. N. Feldzamen
Why do defenders of capitalism always blithely gloss over the consequences of this system? Clive Crook states that capitalism “creates, or leaves unattended, a host of problems that decent societies must address by other means.” But then he fails to enumerate them, or to admit that, for the most part, even “decent” societies never address them adequately. This is mere lip service. Has anyone ever done a serious study on the economic impact of drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, crime, divorce, pollution, economic disparity, and psychological illness caused by a capitalist society in appraising its efficiency? And what about the less tangible effects of promoting a rampantly consumerist society, which becomes increasingly shrill, greedy, selfish, and superficial as it endlessly pursues free markets and economic growth? The negative impacts of a capitalist society on human development and well-being are incalculable. While communism surely failed, capitalism represents no triumph.
If American culture “radiates suspicion of free enterprise,” as Clive Crook contends, it is largely a result of the fact that Americans have chosen socialism as the organizing principle for educating our young. As Marshall McLuhan put it: “The school system … has no place for the rugged individual. It is, indeed, the homogenizing hopper into which we toss our integral tots for processing.”
Education is a protected monopoly of state and local governments. Instruction naturally favors collective—as opposed to free, individual—enterprise. If Americans fail to appreciate that, as Crook puts it, “what best serves a nation’s interest is competition—it’s why markets work, when they do,” we need look no further than the collectivizing project known as K–12 education. It has made us what we are and explains what we are not.
I enjoyed Benjamin Wittes’s article (“Justice Delayed,” March Atlantic), but he did not address a key issue: What if we simply decide to hold all of our prisoners as irregular combatants for the duration of the “War on Terror,” regardless of whether they go before some form of tribunal? Nations have often held prisoners for the duration of a conflict. Even if this conflict goes on for decades, why should we release them, considering that many of them might return to fighting against the United States?
Oak Park, Ill.
Benjamin Wittes replies:
Mr. Barron is quite correct that holding enemy combatants without trial for the duration of hostilities is the historical norm. Then again, the historical norm is predicated on the notion that countries fight with each other, not with the individual soldiers they capture, and that they eventually negotiate the end of the conflict. Nobody truly believes that America now has no fight individually with Osama bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Moreover, our war with al-Qaeda may be a permanent state of affairs; certainly a negotiated end is unthinkable. Given all of this, it seems to me untenable to have no predictable and viable means of trying accused war criminals.
In her article on the upcoming Beijing Olympics (“Dangerous Games,” March Atlantic), Jennifer Lind asserts that “Taiwanese leaders may gamble that the 2008 Olympics will provide them with their best chance to declare formal independence from [the People’s Republic of China].” This is the same sort of dire prediction one often hears from Beijing’s state-sanctioned media about the inherent dangers of Taiwan’s representative government, and it omits a number of key facts. For instance, while much has been made about the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s pro-independence stance, President Chen Shui-bian has steadfastly adhered to the “Five No’s” of his 2000 inaugural speech, in which he proclaimed that absent direct PRC aggression, there would be no unilateral moves toward a formal declaration of independence during his term. And he has kept this promise despite a massive buildup in the number of PRC missiles aimed at Taiwan, and Beijing’s unrelenting quest to deny Taiwan any sort of international recognition. It also bears mentioning that according to Taiwanese law, any move toward formal independence or unification must first pass the Legislative Yuan (currently controlled by opposition parties) before being put to a referendum in which over half of Taiwan’s registered voters must take part for the results to be valid. In short, any change in the status quo cannot and will not be made without the consent of the people of Taiwan, a fact that is glossed over in Lind’s article.
Director, Press Division
Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office
Jennifer Lind replies:
Mr. Tsai emphasizes the institutional and political obstacles to a formal declaration of independence. But it’s far more likely that Taiwanese leaders would employ “salami tactics”—a series of subtle shifts toward autonomy—that require Beijing to choose between greater Taiwanese independence and the use of military force. And it is ironic that Mr. Tsai claims that Chen has “steadfastly adhered” to the “Five No’s,” his promise to avoid making various moves toward independence. In February, the Taiwanese president unilaterally rescinded one of the “Five No’s,” abolishing the National Unification Council, despite polls registering overwhelming support to maintain the status quo. When Beijing and Washington protested this step, Chen said the council was not being “abolished” but, rather, would “cease to function.” These are the sort of word games and subtle measures that political leaders use when they wish to bypass institutional constraints. Caution may still prevail in Taipei, but now we’re at “Four No’s” and counting.
In his article “The Year of Two Popes” (January/February Atlantic), Paul Elie incorrectly asserts that “when John Paul seemed to declare the restriction of the ordained ministry to men an infallible teaching, for example, [Joseph] Ratzinger, though no supporter of a more open priesthood, made clear that this was not permissible.” I would point Mr. Elie to then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1995 response to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (the papal document reaffirming that only men could be validly ordained), in which he wrote the following:
This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.
Despite the various forms of revisionist history applied to Cardinal Ratzinger’s tenure as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since his election as pope, the record should be clear: Cardinal Ratzinger did not declare that the pope’s assertion was not permissible. On the contrary, one rather suspects that he authored the original text of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis as well.
Catharine A. Henningsen
Rye Brook, N.Y.
Paul Elie responds:
It is hard to tell whether Ms. Henningsen read the passage in question too closely or not closely enough. As she points out, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in support of John Paul’s declaration in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the ordained ministry is restricted to men, and as she suggests, in all likelihood Ratzinger had a hand in the drafting of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis itself. The story my sources tell (not an uncommon one) is that John Paul wished to define the restriction of the ordained ministry to men through an “ex cathedra” pronouncement—the kind of pronouncement considered infallible by its very nature—but that Ratzinger warned him off this approach for theological reasons. Instead, Ratzinger devised the approach taken in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which all the “ordinary and universal” teachings of the Catholic Church are affirmed to be infallible in a general way. This method of finessing the issue drew the charge of “creeping infallibilism.” In any case, the documents support the point I made in the article: that John Paul, aware of Ratzinger’s skills as a theologian, made “heavy use of him,” trusting him to attend to the details and even to correct him when necessary.
In “Man Versus Mine” (January/February Atlantic), Robert Bryce manages to contort a single statistic—65 percent of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq are due to mines/IEDs (improvised explosive devices)—into a recipe for American defeat. He never considers a reasonable alternative explanation for this unusual statistic—namely, that Iraqi insurgents simply lack the capability to inflict significant casualties on Americans without using mines.
There is little doubt that modern wireless technology has made mines more effective, but Bryce badly overstates his case. He notes, for example, that only 9 percent of American combat deaths in Vietnam in 1967 were due to mines. That year, American forces suffered approximately 9,400 combat deaths, with about three times the forces we have engaged in Iraq. Adjusting for the size of our Iraq force, that figure is the equivalent of about 3,100 combat deaths. Of these, according to the author’s 9 percent figure, approximately 300 combat deaths would have been due to mines. In reality, American forces suffered 845 combat deaths in Iraq during 2004, of which, according to Bryce, about 550 were due to mines. This is a significant increase, but the article implies a difference in orders of magnitude rather than an arithmetic progression. Per the size of the force engaged (the only thing that really matters), mines are only marginally more dangerous to American forces in Iraq than they were in Vietnam.
More significantly, in Vietnam (and previous conflicts) the enemy forces were able to inflict casualties on American forces at a much higher rate than in Iraq. They accomplished this with a wider variety of weapons and a much broader range of tactics than Iraqi insurgents. Communist forces in Vietnam pressed offensives, successfully ambushed large American units, besieged American bases, and denied allied forces access to entire provinces. But other than suicide-bomb attacks against the civilian populace and mine attacks on American supply lines, Iraqi insurgents can only inflict significant casualties on American forces when we choose to attack them, as at Fallujah in 2004. And then they can count on taking greatly disproportionate casualties.
Bryce also makes a number of factual errors. He notes the Iraqi use of shaped charges in mines, and claims that these “fire armor-piercing conical projectiles.” While armor-piercing projectiles (like rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs) might have a shaped charge, when used in a mine it is the charge itself that is cone-shaped. The mine, like all mines, remains immobile, and its effect is entirely dependent on a vehicle rolling over it (or right next to it). Bryce says that foot patrols might deter mine operations, but then notes that a Marine foot patrol suffered ten dead when it was hit by a mine in December 2005. In fact, the Marines were attending a promotion ceremony, in a dangerous area, and were sitting ducks. He asserts that IEDs are forcing “America’s military strategists to rethink centuries of military doctrine holding that in warfare, mobility equals dominance.” Any serious military strategist knows that military dominance requires a balance of mobility, firepower, and protection. And besides, even if this formulation were correct, it is the insurgents who are essentially immobile, not American forces.
In his conclusion, Bryce solicits the opinion of William Lind, a controversial military theorist who is a vociferous opponent of the war in Iraq and a harsh critic of the Pentagon. Lind’s claim that Iraqi insurgents are “untargetable” is just false. We target and hit them all the time. It is American forces that are difficult for the insurgents to target, save by placing immobile mines along roadways. To use Bryce’s own example, T. E. Lawrence mined Ottoman rail lines as an adjunct to mobile raiding with an army, and he had British conventional forces operating in support of him. Iraqi insurgents lack such operational mobility and support. They can only effectively hit American forces with mines.
Can we lose the war in Iraq? Of course, especially if the American people lose confidence in our effort there. But what better way to shatter the public’s confidence than with careless reporting and tendentious analysis?
Jonathan F. Keiler
I was astonished to read, on page 37 of the January/February issue, Benjamin Schwarz’s acceptance (“The Perils of Primacy”) of the Pentagon’s assertion that U.S. “military preponderance now embraces the entire ‘spectrum of conflict’ … [such that] we’re miles ahead of everyone in every type of warfare,” and then, seven pages later, Robert Bryce’s assertion that “military analysts and active-duty soldiers doubt that the threat posed by IEDs can be neutralized anytime soon.”
Leaving aside the apparent editorial oversight in allowing these contradictory statements to appear virtually side by side in the magazine, it is a frightening notion that the U.S. military—supposedly the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force in the history of the world—is severely threatened by and incapable of defeating a disorganized, underfunded, non-statist group of random individuals armed only with homemade bombs. It’s a crime against U.S. taxpayers, and a testament to the incompetence of the war’s planners, that all our multimillion-dollar missiles, planes, ships, tanks, and the rest are useless against a hundred dollars’ worth of wires and dynamite.
New York, N.Y.
Robert Bryce’s article makes two things clear: the U.S. military is still fixated on technology to the exclusion of anything else to solve tactical problems, and it still doesn’t understand counterinsurgency. The only way to defeat IEDs is by using clear-and-hold tactics and by controlling the population along the roads.
After the traumatic experience of Vietnam, the U.S. military quietly erased from its institutional memory the hard-won counterinsurgency techniques learned in the 1950s and 1960s by the British and French. Until it relearns these mid-twentieth-century concepts and adapts them to the twenty-first century struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan, young Americans will continue to be killed and maimed needlessly in fruitless convoys and mounted patrols.
Lieutenant Colonel Terence J. Daly, U.S. Army Reserves (Retired)
San Francisco, Calif.
Robert Bryce replies:
Mr. Keiler points out that America isn’t losing as many soldiers (on a proportional basis) in Iraq as we did in Vietnam. True. But he cannot refute the fact that the percentage of Americans killed or injured by IEDs in Iraq exceeds anything ever seen before. The latest Army statistics show that four times more GIs are being hurt by explosions (i.e., IEDs, RPGs, etc.) than by gunshots. For all his indignant fury, Keiler ignores the main effect that IEDs have had on the U.S. military in Iraq: they have forced the Defense Department into a reactive mode, forced it to spend billions of dollars on countermeasures—armor, high-tech sensors, etc.—and still our soldiers are being blown up on an almost daily basis. The crux of Keiler’s attack hangs on his contention that the insurgents are unable to cause “significant casualties” on American forces by using IEDs. Hundreds of American soldiers have been killed by IEDs, and thousands have been wounded by them. By any definition, that’s “significant.”
Caitlin Flanagan’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Monica” (January/February Atlantic) grossly misrepresents Planned Parenthood’s Web site teenwire .com, an online resource dedicated to providing medically accurate, nonjudgmental information about sexuality for teens. Flanagan wrongly claims that the site teaches teens how to have oral and other kinds of sex. Teenwire.com does not promote any type of sexual activity. We provide teens with medically accurate, age-appropriate information to help them make responsible decisions about whether or when to have sex and how to protect themselves if they choose to be sexually active.
Sexual expression is a lifelong part of human development. Planned Parenthood’s mission, which we further through teenwire.com and resources and services for parents, teens, and adults, is to ensure that people have the information and health-care services they need to make responsible, healthy decisions.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
New York, N.Y.
As a psychiatrist working in the area of sexuality, I share Caitlin Flanagan’s concern for “America’s girls.” However, her assertion that her sons are less likely to be emotionally wounded by intense, casual early sexual experience than someone else’s daughters is wishful thinking. America’s boys are growing up in a hypersexualized culture with unprecedented access to both real and virtual sexual experiences. The astounding array of sexual material available on the Internet tends to make abnormal behaviors appear normal. Intense sexual experiences at a young age can reinforce behavior that can become entrenched in adulthood. What could be the outcome for “America’s boys”? It is troubling to imagine how the themes of sadism, voyeurism, and exhibitionism inherent in the oral-sex craze could develop into the basis for their adult sexuality. It is even more troubling to consider how this might affect the future of relationships, marriage, and the family.
Dr. Kristine Campbell
Far from being an indictment of feminism’s success, a teenage blowjob explosion would point to the distance we still have to travel—as parents, as communities, as a culture—in ensuring that adolescents and adults develop healthy emotional and physical relationships with themselves and with others, in which girls view their own sexual gratification as a priority on par with that of their partners.
But I think Caitlin Flanagan isn’t actually all that worried about the particulars of the pseudo-epidemic—not the subordination of female desire or pleasure, the risk (though comparatively minimal) of disease, or anything else. Her objection, really, seems to be to the immodesty of casual sexual encounters in general. Flanagan creates these imaginary school-supply-closet trysts—rendering them in lurid detail—in order to set up a false choice: if it’s being treated like glass or treated like dirt, most of us would choose glass. But both deny women and girls full personhood, and so neither is an acceptable option. In the end, Flanagan misses a very basic feminist insight: the continuing fight for gender equality is about refusing to dwell on pedestals or on our knees. All it’s about is existence, for all of us, at eye level.
Caitlin Flanagan replies:
My mother was a lifelong, passionate supporter of Planned Parenthood, and the one time—very long ago—that I had need to visit one of the organization’s clinics, I was treated with surpassing kindness. Until very recently, I sent the occasional small check to the New York headquarters, my mother’s name written on the memo line. It does not come easily to me to stand against Planned Parenthood in any way.
But one of the reasons the organization was founded was to protect children, to ensure that they were born into families in which they could be amply provided for and nurtured. Margaret Sanger cared about the quality of children’s lives, and so do I. What Planned Parenthood’s new president finds “age-appropriate” I find morally repugnant. Whoever is writing the copy for teenwire.com clearly has an abiding and vivid interest in the sex play of minors. The site instructs kids on anal and oral sex; it tells boys that they can reduce nocturnal emissions by engaging in sex play with a partner; it includes a glossary of slang terms, which I have no desire to repeat here. Children are welcome to address questions to the teenwire.com experts. One had been asked to engage in cyber sex, but didn’t know what it was or how to do it. Teenwire.com helpfully gave her the 411. A fifteen-year-old girl seeking to initiate a sexual relationship with a twenty-year-old man was told that some states have “double standards” about this sort of thing, and that she should “Call the office of the attorney general in [her] state to find out what the laws are there” to learn if the liaison is legal. Clearly, the organization has developed a new mission, one that includes participating in the increasing sexualization of our nation’s youth and performing a role best described as “sexual advocacy.”
“Against the State, against the Church, against the silence of the medical profession,” Margaret Sanger wrote, “the woman today arises.” What the Planned Parenthood of my youth offered to me and to millions of other young women wasn’t just contraception; it was something more along the lines of human dignity. An organization that receives 32 percent of its funding from the federal government, whose Web site advises teenyboppers to try chocolate condoms to make oral sex more fun, doesn’t give us or our children dignity, or anything like it. It reduces the noblest of causes to something squalid—or worse, something shameful.
“The Border” (January/February Atlantic), by Ross Douthat and Jenny Woodson, included this statement: “And securing the border may not be feasible no matter what the public wants—at least absent a heavy military presence and the sorts of barriers used in Cold War Berlin and the Korean DMZ.”
Nonsense. Remember how intractable the problems of crime, squeegee guys, and graffiti were in New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s? As long as the bad guys were convinced that no enforcement would take place, they were emboldened. But as soon as the political will appeared, the fix wasn’t that hard.
In the case of illegal immigration, there’s actually proof that enforcement wouldn’t be that difficult. In the spring and summer of 2004, the Temecula Border Patrol station formed a special Mobile Patrol Group that conducted a series of illegal-alien sweeps in Norco, Corona, and Escondido, California. The twelve-man group made more than 450 arrests as a result of the roundups. After complaints from illegal aliens and their lobbyists, the program was scrapped. But if that could be accomplished by twelve agents in a month or two, imagine what a scaled-up version would look like. A few thousand agents doing interior enforcement, combined with mandatory workplace employment verification using the payroll records of the Social Security Administration, would cause millions to self-deport.
San Ramon, Calif.
I was struck—as I’m sure many were—by the acute irony of Garrison Keillor’s “Anthem” (January/February Atlantic). The idea of well-established, nationally recognized poets writing our national anthem seems absurd, bemusing. But why? After all, Australia’s leading poet, Les Murray, was commissioned recently to rewrite the country’s national pledge of allegiance. If we look to Australia, then, we see an amalgamation of two spheres—high art and high politics—that are, in the United States, typically regarded as polar opposites.
“The Star-Spangled Banner,” to its credit, is a lovely song about the strength of our nation. But it is a lovely song written by a lawyer, and it is representative of an 1812 America. That is, when we sing it, we salute a nation that is, even with our young history, archaic; we sing to a nation of white-male decision-makers, and we sing to a union that was not yet composed of all her states.
I understand that “The Star-Spangled Banner” speaks to a kind of sustainability and longevity, and that we cannot very well go changing our national anthem with each whim or passion that might afflict us; we would appear too malleable in our convictions. But even so, in light of some of the monumental national changes we have experienced over the past 194 years, perhaps a new anthem should be devised.
Garrison Keillor replies:
It’s a bold idea, dear reader, to suggest that someone write a new national anthem, but there’s nobody who could do it, and only a fool would try. Think about the poems written for inaugurations: they all got decent burials, and nobody will ever read them again. Francis Scott Key’s magnificent poem isn’t about national power and triumph; it’s about survival, and that is its brilliance as a national anthem—so much is left unsaid. The song has been abused by aging divas and faded pop stars and every soloist who ever sang it, but when it’s put in the people’s key and sung by a crowd, it’s thrilling. People think they don’t know the words, but they do. You come to “land of the free” and the sopranos rise up like angels, and the “home of the brave” is majestic, and everybody feels great at the end.
I only understood the underwhelming nature of Alex Beam’s piece on Nova Scotia (“Nova Scotia, Mon Amour,” January/February Atlantic) when I reached the end, where he admits that “it is a treasure I would prefer to keep to myself.” He cleverly attempts to thwart arrival by land when he, no doubt deliberately, mixes Saint John, New Brunswick, and St. John’s, Newfoundland, to give us St. John, New Brunswick. He is right that it is a more cumbersome option to take the ferry from there, but he neglects to mention that one can simply bypass Saint John and drive two hours to Nova Scotia without ever getting on a boat or staying over. Or, you could fly.
So we’re not that inaccessible, but that’ll be our secret, Alex.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
I couldn’t get beyond the first page of Christopher Hitchens’s book review (“What’s Left?” March Atlantic) without first turning back eighty pages to the item in Primary Sources (“Strunk and White’s Revenge”) about thesaurus overuse by “insecure writers.” It gave me a chuckle. “Polymathic,” “meretricious,” “etiolated”?! Does Hitchens use a thesaurus? Is Hitchens a thesaurus?
I was glad to see my first and most recent books—The World of Henry Orient and Coast to Coast—mentioned together in Sally Singer’s piece “Mommies Dearest” (January/February Atlantic).
But for fans of Henry Orient, book or movie, it’s time to come clean. The narrator (me) of Coast is one and the same as the narrator of Henry, Marian (also me). Val fell in love with Henry, but she never went to Hollywood.
Bruce McCall—along with about a thousand writers, editors, and proofreaders—confuses “shinny” with “shimmy” (“Not Conspicuously Intelligent Design,” March Atlantic). To “shin” or “shinny” up a tree or pole is to pull oneself up with the arms while supporting oneself with the shins. A “shimmy” is a violent back-and-forth vibration, dangerous in a car’s steering mechanism but allegedly attractive in “my sister Kate,” according to the song.
Las Vegas, Nev.