Letters to the editor

Flight Club

Private Plane, Public Menace” (January/February Atlantic), by Jeffrey Goldberg, will certainly grab readers’ attention, with its sensationalist characterization of security for “general aviation,” a category that includes all aviation outside the airlines or the military. However, readers deserve to know that numerous initiatives to harden general aviation against terrorist threats have been put into place by industry.

For instance, names of general-aviation pilots and aircraft owners are checked against terrorist watch lists, and pilots must hold tamper-proof ID issued by the government. Charter aircraft are covered by federal security requirements—including, for larger aircraft, baggage and passenger screening before boarding. Foreign citizens seeking certain types of flight training in the U.S. undergo fingerprint-based background checks. An “Airport Watch” program, with a toll-free number, is in place for reporting suspicious activity. The Treasury Department monitors the buyers and sellers of aircraft.

Contrary to Goldberg’s assertion, we in general aviation have long prioritized security, and have worked effectively with government officials to implement measures that enhance security without needlessly sacrificing mobility.

Ed Bolen
President and CEO
National Business Aviation Association
Washington, D.C.

Jeffrey Goldberg replies:

I have been the target of a letter-writing campaign that appears to be about as spontaneous as a Pyongyang political rally. The letter writers, nearly all of whom are men with vested economic interests in private aviation, make Ed Bolen’s exact points, which is to say, they ignore the actual content of my article. To recap: I wrote about my firsthand experience on a corporate jet. I noted that before boarding the plane, my identity was not ascertained, either by the pilots or by officials of a federal agency; and that my luggage and person were not inspected. The plane, an eight-seat jet, could have done a fair amount of damage to, say, CIA headquarters, near which we flew. I told this story and then asked: Is this a good thing for public safety? I am comforted by the knowledge that a toll-free number exists that can be called in case of an unfolding terrorist plot, but it seems to me that a bit more intelligent oversight might be needed. I understand, of course, that I gored the ox of a special interest that, for reasons of profit and convenience, would rather limit the level of oversight to which it is subjected.

Judging Karen Owen

Although I took issue with several parts of “The Hazards of Duke” (January/February Atlantic), Caitlin Flanagan’s statements and assumptions about The Chronicle’s news sense with regard to rape charges against a former Duke sophomore misrepresent the paper’s coverage.

To say that The Chronicle and its editors found these accusations “of relatively little interest” is baseless speculation, and to say we covered the story “far more briefly” than the Karen Owen story is inaccurate. The Chronicle published three stories about the rape charges. All three ran on the front page, two of them as the lead story. We have continued to monitor developments in both story lines as they have occurred.

Lindsey Rupp
The Chronicle
Duke University
Durham, N.C.

I was troubled by the disgust and contempt, disingenuously disguised as pity, that Caitlin Flanagan heaps on Karen Owen. After reading the offending PowerPoint presentation, I am somewhat puzzled that Ms. Owen is being characterized as either a heroine or a villain. Her greatest crime appears to be publicizing the names of her sexual partners, but what Ms. Flanagan finds most offensive is Owen’s promiscuity, her willingness to please men sexually, and the sexual excitement she derives from being the object of male aggression. It is interesting that in the 21st century we still provide a mouthpiece for people who think a woman’s casual disregard for her sexual reputation is a sign of psychopathology. Readers should be able to expect something a bit more edifying than mean-girl nastiness and reactionary sexual politics from a publication of The Atlantic’s stature.

Danielle Barry, Ph.D.
West Hartford, Conn.

Caitlin Flanagan replies:

It is not I, but Lindsey Rupp, who has mischaracterized the essential facts of the case. On what did I base my assertion that The Chronicle covered the rape accusation far more briefly than it did the Owen PowerPoint? At the time my essay appeared in The Atlantic, the paper had published three articles about the rape case, and one letter from an associate dean of the university who questioned the paper’s journalistic ethics in its reporting of those stories. The paper refused to allow its readers to comment on the first two of those stories. In contrast, the paper published a total of 27 pieces concerning, either directly or indirectly, the Owen episode, which garnered a total of 225 reader comments.

If Danielle Barry has read Owen’s PowerPoint as carefully and sympathetically as she claims, then I assume she approves of the racism in which Owen and her white consorts took such comedic delight. When the group joke among a bunch of privileged white kids is that a young woman had sex with a black athlete for the sole purpose of giving birth to a linebacker, then—in my book, anyway—we are in the territory of something ugly. If Barry wants to cling to the protocol and rhetoric of the kind of clapped-out feminist theory that seems to reach its highest moments of passion and purpose in the production of poorly researched letters to editors, she might at least stay true to her colors and refrain from referring to me (perhaps her sworn enemy, but nobody’s minor child) as a girl.

Of Hobbes and Porn

As the editor of Fleshbot.com, one of the most popular sites focused on sexuality and the adult industry, I feel compelled to weigh in on the misleading mess that is Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s “Hard Core” (January/February Atlantic). Vargas-Cooper displays a stunning ignorance about her subject, made plain when she casually mentions that double anal is standard fare on any porn site worth its salt. To the contrary: though many acts that might be considered extreme or hard core by mainstream standards are relatively commonplace, double anal is far from an everyday occurrence.

But it’s not simply the author’s ignorance about her subject that disappoints me, it’s her dismal view of human—particularly male—nature, her broad generalizations about human sexuality, and her apparent inability to separate fantasy from reality.

True, plenty of porn sites plumb the Hobbesian depths of human sexuality. But plenty of others offer a different view, one that hardly squares with the author’s idea of debased, ravaged women undone by aggressive men. Even if all porn were as she suggests, it would hardly be proof that men are fundamentally contemptuous of women. Many video games invite us to engage in acts of violence, yet reasonable people understand that we can separate our urges to decapitate our CGI foes from our relatively peaceful daily lives. So it is with porn: a violent, abusive fantasy is hardly proof positive of a violent, abusive nature—or even of tendencies toward violent, abusive behavior.

Lux Alptraum
New York, N.Y.

I am truly sorry that Natasha Vargas-Cooper wound up in bed with a man who could experience sexual pleasure only by inflicting discomfort on her, but she should not be allowed to generalize from that experience that “the desire to debase women … [is] certainly an animating force of male sexuality.” Yes, biology gives men the active role in sex, but active need not be synonymous with brutalizing. It is not only the “strenuously enforced norms” that Vargas-Cooper refers to (but despairs of) that can channel male sexuality; surely personality also plays a role. Men who are by nature mean-spirited may find their sexual urges expressed as a desire to debase, but not all men are mean-spirited.

The real problem with the author’s thesis is that it risks taking pornography off the hook; porn is ugly and degrading, not because sex is inescapably ugly and degrading, but rather because the ruthless commoditization of intimacy could hardly be otherwise.

Allen Salter
Evanston, Ill.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper replies:

It’s no surprise that the editor of Fleshbot, a commercial site that panders to the adult market, would go out of her way to put a cheery spin on the state of pornography. Though many pay-to-play membership sites may not feature double-anal vignettes, giant porn aggregators such as Tiava, PornHub, and YouJizz offer viewers an encyclopedic menu of every sort of genre imaginable for free. If you were to open your browser to Tiava.com, you’d find 438 videos of women (and some men) getting double anal. I have no doubt that many of the professional porn stars whom Fleshbot blogs about may blanch at the notion of performing a double-anal scene, but legions of amateurs are willing to take their place, and a massive audience will gladly watch.

Sites like Burning Angel (covered extensively by Fleshbot)—which feature cheeky, aggressive girls; candy-colored hair; piercings; and an overall cheerful attitude about group sex—are part of the burgeoning cottage industry of “alternative” porn that purposefully emphasizes “how much fun!!” everyone on camera is having. While these sites could, I suppose, be held up as some kind of antidote to the undeniable drive for male domination and female humiliation that is embedded in most porn (and sex!), they fall under the “alternative” banner for a reason: they exist outside of what most people want to see, do, and touch themselves to.

The Officer Core

Retention of capable Army officers, as described by Tim Kane in “Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving” (January/February Atlantic), is a concern frequently discussed by us mediocre officers still serving.

One of Kane’s suggestions—allowing commanders the discretion to pick their own subordinates—would inevitably lead to cronyism (a “MacArthur guy” or an “Ike guy,” for example). The classic book on the Korean conflict, The Forgotten War, notes the terrible consequences that resulted from this system.

Much of what combat commanders do can’t be learned in a classroom. Education and innovation, while important, are no substitute for experience. This is a significant difference from the business examples the author relies on. A better comparison is to a surgeon rather than a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Some hotshot officer with fewer years in service and fewer deployments under his belt is probably not going to perform better in combat than an older guy who’s been there before. We’d rather work for the graybeard.

Remarkably, Kane did not discuss something that the Army has considered but never formally adopted: “360-degree” officer reviews. Adding the voices of an officer’s peers and subordinates could counterbalance conformity and cronyism. It might also do a better job of identifying particularly capable leaders respected by the soldiers who actually have to live with an officer’s decisions.

Col. Craig A. Collier Lt. Col. Timothy F. Watson
Washington, D.C.

Tim Kane replies:

I agree entirely with Craig Collier and Timothy Watson: the flaws of military personnel rules are much bigger than the retention crisis. Bleeding talent means not that all of the best officers leave early, but that many do (an observation of more than 80 percent of the active-duty officers I surveyed). The larger message is that the great officers who remain in uniform are ineffectively evaluated, and are not always matched with the right jobs and given the freedom to excel, whether that be in a specialty or in command. It’s long past time for the U.S. military to recognize—as the Soviet Union did—that central planning of any resource is never more efficient than a market. I remain honored and awed by the service of the men and women in uniform, especially those who, like Collier and Watson, have innovative ideas.


The Rise of the New Global Elite” (January/February Atlantic) mentioned “Paul Allen’s Sun Valley gathering.” This should have read “Herb Allen’s Sun Valley gathering.” In the same issue, “The Kindest Cut” should have said that Dr. Ronald Wandira works for Population Services International. “The Last Stand of Ricardo Sanchez” should have read that at the time of his retirement, Sanchez was the highest-ranking Latino in the Army, not the highest-ranking Latino ever to have served.


Word frequencies in response to the January/February issue: