Letters to the editor


In response to the July/August cover story, “How to Fix the World,” Atlantic readers offered their own ideas. Here are the highlights:

1. Eliminate the penny.
2. Pass a new GI Bill.
3. Color-code hotel towels.
4. Give more professors tenure.
5. Eradicate all religion.
6. Increase national cash reserves.
7. Elect two vice presidents.
8. Tie the corporate income tax to job creation and retention.
9. Make drugs free.
10. Don’t have children.
The Case for Marriage

Having just read Sandra Tsing Loh’s rant against the kitchen bitch (“Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” July/August Atlantic) and being a rather delighted partner in a Companionate Marriage, I was hesitant to hand over The Atlantic to my husband. You see, last night’s dinner was veal in the style of Trieste, with red cabbage, which he prepared while I tucked in our two children for the night. Dear friends sipped a fine Napa Valley red while waiting for me to descend empty-handed from upstairs, and for my husband to bring the meal to the table.

Unfortunately, after reading Ms. Tsing Loh’s case against marriage, my husband has started to develop a bit of a complex. Sandra Tsing Loh had a place at our dinner table nearly every night for the past few weeks, but I have now shown her the door. I love my kitchen bitch. The marriage is a win-win.

Jennifer Raum
Fargo, N.D.

I write as a divorced woman who has remarried. Indeed, I am one of those delusional creatures who still believed in the institution of marriage, even while watching the demise of my own. Perhaps more blame for the end of Sandra Tsing Loh’s marriage lies in her generation’s interpretation of the Women’s Movement than in society as a whole or the institution of marriage in particular. The empowerment born of the movement was not the ability to do everything well, but the ability to choose one’s priorities without ostracism or marginalization.

Happy husband, happy children, fulfilling career, spotless home. Four brass rings to grab. Two hands with which to grab. Is it any surprise so many women of Tsing Loh’s generation end up divorced? They try to achieve what is typically beyond the limits of any one human’s energy and effort. I hope the women of my generation have learned to better prioritize and moderate their goals.

Tsing Loh mentions our increased longevity, without any attendant realization that we women have more time than ever to do everything well. The rub is that the days of our 77 years are still only 24 hours long—we can do everything well, just not simultaneously. Ultimately, my advice to Tsing Loh mirrors her own. She should avoid marriage. If not forever, at least until she is willing to make it a priority in her life.

Tricia Heath
Long Beach, Calif.

Sandra Tsing Loh replies:
From my position of exile in Jennifer Raum’s recycling bin, I can only humbly request that Raum’s marvelous husband place some veal in a doggy bag, next to the trash cans, as it sounds really good. That said, although Raum gives a lot of marriage menu description, I noticed no word on the sex. And yet, if all’s well by both, who am I to argue those Napa Valley red–warmed nights aren’t indeed win-win? As for Tricia Heath, yes. Were I to marry a second time, in midlife or beyond, with my childbearing years behind me and my own income before me, I would have the First World luxury of choosing for a husband not a provider, a father, or any other conventionally male-protective figure but an emotional partner. If that “emotional partner” ends up being a fun-loving gay, I hope we will gain readmittance to Jennifer Raum’s welcoming table. World travelers, we will embrace Fargo (and I’ll make sure Chaz brings his porcini risotto)!

Full Speed Ahead

Bruce Selcraig suggests using Detroit’s numerous dead factories to build high-speed trains (“Train Detroit,” July/August Atlantic)—and what an irony it would be for commuter trains to be built there, given Detroit’s role in undermining rail transit in America. But if you go back further in history, you’ll remember that it was the GM diesel-electric locomotive that forced the mighty steam engine off the main line and into the museum, and brought the railroads into the modern age. Thus, if Detroit were to build the new high-speed trains, it would be less an irony and more a return to natural evolution, with the inefficient automobile being an unproductive segment of the lineage.

Paul Tominac
San Francisco, Calif.

Keeping the Peace

James Gibney’s “Unleash the Dogs of Peace” (July/August Atlantic) misstates the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and promotes a number of misconceptions about the work of UN peacekeepers globally. Violence and conflict indeed continue in the DRC, but Mr. Gibney is wrong to imply that peacekeepers have done nothing to improve the situation in the DRC.

When the UN first deployed MONUC, a decade ago, the DRC was a politically fractured country where millions had died in the ongoing civil war. At the height of the conflict, approximately 3.4 million people were displaced. Today, 1.7 million people are displaced, largely because of localized hostilities in the east. Most Congolese armed groups have laid down their arms, the western regions are stable, and with MONUC’s assistance, the DRC has carried out its first national democratic multiparty elections in 40 years.

Like all other major global military deployments, MONUC has had incidents of misconduct. All such cases are investigated by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight and referred to the member states for action. MONUC pursues a strict policy of zero tolerance for misconduct and over the past five years has repatriated 143 uniformed personnel and taken disciplinary action against 20 civilians for offenses related to sexual exploitation and abuse.

As Mr. Gibney rightly points out, the use of private military contractors as an alternative to UN blue helmets raises serious issues of accountability, as they operate in a “murky legal environment.” It is also in no way certain that they would be more effective than the blue helmets. A recent study by the Rand Corporation stated that the UN “provides the most suitable institutional framework for most nation-building missions, one with a comparatively low cost structure, a comparatively high success rate and the greatest degree of international legitimacy.” A shift to the use of private military companies would guarantee none of these outcomes.

Alain L. Roy
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations
United Nations
New York, N.Y.

Go Green With Nuclear

I find it strange that Joshua Green holds up Jimmy Carter as a champion of clean energy (“The Elusive Green Revolution,” July/August Atlantic), since his policy of banning the commercial reprocessing and recycling of nuclear fuel was instrumental in thwarting the growth of the industry with the greatest potential for replacing carbon-emitting electrical power plants in the U.S.—nuclear energy.

France now generates more than 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy and is a net exporter of electricity because of its very low generation cost. According to the Energy Information Administration, nuclear plants account for 10 percent of the electrical-generation capacity and produce 20 percent of the electricity in the U.S. Wind and solar generation account for about 1.6 percent of electrical-generation capacity. Nuclear plants have achieved a utilization factor of 90 percent because they can operate 24 hours a day year-round regardless of weather, whereas dependability is a major consideration in the use of wind and solar energy for generation of electricity.

I hope the Obama administration and Congress give serious consideration to the clean-energy source already operational with buildable capacity to meet the needs of the electric automobiles they are encouraging. Let’s revoke Carter’s ban on recycling nuclear fuel and build a breeder reactor so we can be at least as far up on the energy curve as the French.

Steve Myers
Tucson, Ariz.

Geo-Engineering Responsibility

In his fascinating but unnerving article on geo-engineering (“Moving Heaven and Earth,” July/August Atlantic), Graeme Wood draws attention to the potential dangers should nations or even wealthy individuals decide to mitigate the forthcoming climate crisis by using some form of dramatic geo-engineering. Although this is unlikely because most countries would hesitate to violate international law, extreme circumstances could provoke a maverick reaction, Wood says. He calls for more research into possible legal responses to geo-engineering.

One important response would be to create a judicial framework for international environmental treaties, which could set standards for national, corporate, and individual activities causing environmental damage or creating hazards and could, when necessary, impose sanctions. Call it an International Court for the Environment. Research into the potential structure and functions of such a court has already begun, and a steering committee ready to launch a worldwide campaign for its adoption has been created; it’s called, appropriately enough, the ICE Coalition.

In anticipation of, or in response to, a potential “Greenfinger” acting unilaterally, such a court could help to establish the ground rules in this area and coordinate a global approach and, perhaps, avoid the Blade Runner scenario that Wood so scarily conjures up.

Stephen Hockman, QC, Peter Luff, and Philip Riches
ICE Coalition
London, England

Graeme Wood’s article has performed a valuable service by drawing attention to the possibility of geo-engineering as a means of manipulating the Earth’s climate, particularly to reverse global warming, should that be desirable. Unfortunately, despite much speculative talk, amazingly little serious technical study has been devoted to the details of geo-engineering, and this article reflects that.

A recent Novim Group study found that the use of tubes and balloons to loft sulfur into the stratosphere, as featured in the article, would be difficult and would require the development of new technology. Big guns and airplanes, often suggested, probably wouldn’t work either, but simple rockets would be a cheap, low-tech solution, lofting sulfur in any desired quantity to any desired altitude.

Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is not feasible, because of the enormous quantity of air that must pass through the extraction process. All proposals, including David Keith’s towers, would fail by enormous factors.

Ultimately, society will have to decide by a worldwide consensus whether it wants to engage in geo-engineering. But first we need some thoughtful study of the options. The science shows that the work is possible, but the serious engineering has not been done.

Jonathan Katz
Professor of Physics
Washington University
St. Louis, Mo.

Checking Our Competitive Drive

The year 2030 can’t come soon enough, if we’re to accept Jamais Cascio’s über-optimistic vision (“Get Smarter,” July/August Atlantic). According to Cascio, cognitive-modification drugs are a pancea. We will be smarter; we will be a “populace stuck in overdrive, searching out the last bits of competitive advantage.”

Well, that’s all fine and good, but is it what we need? Cascio accepts “beating out rivals” as an inexorable part of our DNA; consequently, to resist a pharmacological arms race is futile (he is not completely right: home runs and neck sizes are down in baseball, and the game is better for it), and we should choose instead to embrace chemical innovation as the next major evolutionary event.

It seems that we are at a moment in our history when the base competitive drive in all of us may need to be checked, rather than augmented. Unless Mr. Cascio’s drugs can make our hearts bigger, I fear they may only accelerate the abuses and fissures that define us today.

Benny Koldyke
Santa Monica, Calif.

Jamais Cascio replies:
The baseball analogy is inexact; drugs have been pushed out of sports not by a sudden increase in prudence, but by a testing-and-punishment regime that would be excessive in the typical workplace. Moreover, pharmacology is just a small part of the historical drive to augment ourselves through technology. But we’re now at a point where the power of that augmentation can be staggering. We must apply caution, wisdom, and foresight across the spectrum of our technologies, evaluating both drawbacks and benefits, embracing neither desire for transcendence nor fear of catastrophe as our only guide.

Less-Than-Rosy Reality

I am always happy to see coverage of a country I love, but I was disturbed by Jeffrey Tayler’s rosy view of Moldova’s reality (“How Moldova Escaped the Crisis,” July/August Atlantic). Although Tayler may think the lack of widespread reliance on credit is laudable, he fails to accurately describe the hardships of Moldovan life. Moldova’s dubious distinction as one of the main source countries of human trafficking, the high rates of emigration now seriously depleting its educated population, and the continued Russian occupation in the Transnistrian region belie Tayler’s fairly bucolic description.

As Tayler points out, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, with an average per capita income of about $2,500 in 2008. Most Moldovans in Chişinău do live within their means and find ways to purchase consumer goods such as washing machines and televisions, but life is often communal and families work together to purchase these items, so there is little in the way of individual consumption. The wealthiest in Moldova have often prospered from the “shadow economies” that profit from human, drug, and arms trafficking and foreign remittances. Those are the people shopping in Sun City and Jumbo. Leave the capital and head to Moldova’s rural agricultural villages, and life is vastly different.

Indeed, the picture of the family picnicking accompanying the article may have also illustrated the result of a Russian gas shutoff of a few years ago, when inhabitants of Chişinău were forced to take to the parks and woods to cook meals for an entire summer.

Denise M. Horn, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of International Affairs
Northeastern University
Boston, Mass.

Jeffrey Tayler replies:
Moldova’s sufferings are well known, so I saw no need to recount them in detail in my article; if Westerners hear anything about the country at all, it is probably negative. In any case, what Moldova surely did not need was another crisis to add to its travails—in this case an economic crisis originating in the debt-ridden U.S. The point of my article was to show how debtless Moldova managed to escape the crisis. Lack of debt doesn’t make a society “bucolic”—Denise Horn’s word—but it does, it turns out, make life a lot easier.

I don’t know the circumstances under which the photo accompanying my story was shot, but it runs counter to common sense to suppose that only a Russia-related gas cutoff would prompt Moldovans to enjoy one bounty they do have—a clement climate.

The Value of Leadership

Speaking of CEOs (“Do CEOs Matter?” Harris Collingwood, June Atlantic): 40 years after Walt Disney’s death, Disney Corporation staff still feel that they are part of a special mission that contributes toward a better world. And several years after the fun-loving Herb Kelleher etired from Southwest Airlines, pilots and flight attendants still consider it an honor to be chosen to serve on a Shamu (one of Southwest’s three planes painted like an orca).

To have a purpose, to be encouraged to enthusiastically implement that purpose, and to have the sense of proud ownership and accomplishment when observing its positive impacts is the essence of a meaningful, fulfilling life.

There are many “leaders” among middle management, staff, and the next generation who could focus, inspire, and unleash the rest of us. I meet them every day. But they will never have the opportunity to do so until the rest of us begin valuing, developing, and promoting leaders instead of valuing, developing, and promoting those who can fabricate a profit margin in the next quarter. Those house-of-sand next-quarter profits are crumbling all around us, while the few house-of-brick organizations that are based on true leadership are doing just fine.

David Childs, Ph.D.
Irving, Texas

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