Letters to the editor

Changing Cityscapes

I suspect that many will be surprised by Richard Florida’s criticism of homeownership (“How the Crash Will Reshape America,” March Atlantic). Maybe it’s high time someone had the temerity to call this sacred cow a nightmare. There’s a problem, however: renting deprives millions of Americans of a goal that, since childhood, they have been taught is—like a college education—a worthwhile and achievable one. Homeownership validates their claim to membership in a class that has a tangible stake in America.

Hosea L. Martin
Chicago, Ill.

Future Fighters

Mark Bowden’s article (“The Last Ace,” March Atlantic) should have been titled “Ode to the Fighter Pilot.” Mr. Bowden made no reference to the best argument against spending untold billions for a full complement of F‑22s—remotely piloted aircraft, which make up a rapidly growing and capable segment of U.S. military air power. They are much cheaper to build and operate than piloted aircraft, primarily because they have no life-support systems. They can turn and maneuver more sharply, since g-forces are of little concern. And if a remotely piloted aircraft were to be shot down, there is no pilot to rescue. If these aircraft can perform as well as or better than manned aircraft, then the days of the fighter jock should be over.

Gregory Crowell
Cooperstown, N.Y.

As a physicist, I must point out that Mark Bowden’s article is plagued by a misunderstanding of the relationship between electrons and electromagnetic radiation (such as that used by radar). Electrons are not emitted by aircraft radar sets in any important quantities. If Mr. Bowden wants to write in terms of particles emitted and absorbed by radar sets, the correct particles are photons, the quanta of electromagnetic radiation.

John Caraher
Greencastle, Ind.

Mark Bowden replies:

Given the cost of combat jets, I figure just about any administration would prefer a viable, cheaper alternative that does not place pilots at risk. I suspect that unmanned fighters capable of modern air-to-air combat are in the U.S. Air Force’s future, but to my knowledge, no such aircraft yet exist that can rival a piloted fighter. The F‑22, on the other hand, is fully designed, tested, and operational.

Thanks to John Caraher and the many others who corrected my high-school physics.

Debating Gay Bishops

Paul Elie paints a sympathetic portrait of Rowan Williams (“The Velvet Reformation,” March Atlantic), but he does not seem to understand Anglican history and polity very well.

Henry VIII did not found the Church of England. He simply removed it from papal jurisdiction. English Anglicans have always been careful to insist upon the continuity between their Church and that of their pre-Reformation ancestors.

Additionally, although it would be nice if Williams had been “elected easily” to the primacy of the English Church, he was chosen by Prime Minister Tony Blair from names submitted by the Crown Appointments Commission. The queen made the formal appointment. The only election was a pro forma ceremony by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral.

John Richard Orens
Professor of History
George Mason University
Fairfax, Va.

Paul Elie misreads Archbishop Rowan Williams. When the archbishop of Canterbury says he doubts that there will be openly gay bishops in the Church of England in 10 years, he adds: “I doubt that we’ll have progressed that far in our discernment process.” Elie takes the quoted statement to mean “not yet,” and he’s confident that Williams is personally in favor of openly (and presumably noncelibate) gay bishops.

But the emphasis on Williams’s individual opinion is misplaced. The emphasis should instead be placed on the phrase discernment process. Williams honestly believes that as cantuar, and as a member of the Church Catholic, he is called to participate with others in discerning the mind of the Church, responsive to the will of God.

David Hein
Professor of Religion and Philosophy Hood College
Frederick, Md.

Paul Elie replies:

No, the archbishop of Canterbury is not elected by the bishops in the sense I suggested (though the many reports of Williams’s “election” confused the matter). But John Richard Orens’s other point is less a point of accuracy than a piece of polemic in disguise. As it happens, there was no Church of England before Henry’s. There was a church, founded in Jerusalem, centered in Rome, with adherents in the British Isles. The many points of agreement between Rome and Canterbury don’t alter the fact that Henry did create something new, nor the fact that in the name of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church was brutally suppressed.

Scholars are always saying that journalists lack subtlety about religion, but it seems to me that David Hein willfully misses the subtlety of my article. I don’t know what Rowan Williams thinks, only what he has said and written—and what he said to me in our two encounters at Lambeth Palace suggested that he would think greater openness to gay bishops a good thing. The quote at the end of the article bears this out: he, not I, spoke of gay bishops in terms of progress. My own view is that we shouldn’t have to guess—that the effort to discern what the archbishop of Canterbury thinks complicates the church’s effort to discern the right way forward about homosexuality. So I ended the piece by proposing that Williams should say what he thinks more forthrightly.

Miracle Drug?

I was very happy to learn that Virginia Postrel’s health-insurance company paid $60,000 for her Herceptin treatments (“My Drug Problem,” March Atlantic). But who really paid for these treatments? Her co-insureds or her employer.

Unfortunately, the more drugs and treatments an insurance company covers, the higher the premiums will be, leaving fewer people and companies able to afford insurance. The net result: more people with no health insurance and more bankrupt companies like General Motors. No society can afford to give every one of its members every available medical treatment. Society has to make choices. On the battlefield, this is called “triage.” The U.S. has opted to provide medical care to the well-heeled and to those employed by companies that provide health insurance.

Anne Richmond
Delray Beach, Fla.

Virginia Postrel omits the most important word from her article on cancer treatment: price. Drug companies claim that it costs them about $900 million to bring a drug to market, but that figure has never been subject to audit. Pharmaceutical manufacturers charge and get any price they want for drugs that probably cost them pennies per dose.

I propose that as a condition for FDA approval of any new drug, the manufacturer must agree to a price calculated by the Government Accountability Office. This price would consist of the actual cost to produce the product plus a percent markup, all of which would be public record.

David R. Work
Executive Director Emeritus
The North Carolina Board of Pharmacy
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Virginia Postrel replies:

Anne Richmond, who seems to have forgotten about Medicare and Medicaid, wants to herd everyone into a bare-bones insurance system, presumably administered by the government, and then institute “triage.” In the short term, expensive drugs like Herceptin would be available only to affluent people with the resources to pay out of pocket. In the long term, with the elimination of much of the potential market, expensive drugs like Herceptin wouldn’t get developed.

Like many other people, Richmond seems not to understand the difference between a voluntary contract to share risks—insurance, in other words—and a forced subsidy. Employment-based insurance has many problems, but it is, in fact, a form of compensation. If The Atlantic did not offer health insurance, or provided less generous coverage, it would have to pay higher salaries for the same staff. That different businesses and individuals can make different trade-offs between the costs of health care, or health insurance, and other goods is a plus, not a minus, of our patchwork system. It avoids the all-or-nothing political decision about whether a treatment is worth paying for.

David Work assumes away the extremely risky and expensive process of drug development. Genentech spent roughly $200 million to turn Herceptin into a marketable drug, and that figure understates the perils of the process. The drug could easily have failed to work, diverting scarce resources from other drugs and doing significant financial damage to the company. The cost of a successful drug includes the costs of the many, many promising ideas that never make it.

Work’s specific prescription would corrupt the FDA’s approval process, which should be focused on scientific questions of safety and efficacy, not economic considerations.

[Note: For more letters about Virginia Postrel’s March column and a fuller response by the author, click here.]

Editors’ Note

Richard Florida’s March article, “How the Crash Will Reshape America,” identified Christopher Berry as a Harvard economist. He is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies. Sandra Tsing Loh’s March article, “Class Dismissed,” identified Abraham Maslow as a psychiatrist. He was a psychologist. Mark Bowden’s January/February article, “The Hardest Job in Football,” incorrectly stated the final score of the September 21, 2008, New York Giants–Cincinnati Bengals game. It was 26–23. We regret the errors.

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