The Conversation

Readers respond to stories in our January/February issue and more.

Javier Jaén

In Defense of Facts

In the January/February issue, William Deresiewicz reviewed John D’Agata’s trilogy of essay anthologies, criticizing the author’s very definitions of essay and nonfiction, as well as his infidelity to the truth.

William Deresiewicz raises a deeper issue that cries out for the same careful investigation and analysis. It has to do with the popularity of John D’Agata and his books and his position of power in a prestigious institution of learning. To wit: Are we as a species so fragile and anxious that we are sucked into the aura of beliefs of any “self-important ignoramus” who sidelines our arguments and fears about ambiguous facts? Is that part of the reason we are almost continuously at war—do we need wars and demagogues to distract us from the anxieties of simply being human? If this is the case, it helps explain the popularity of all who deny the facts for us: If the facts are not facts, then we can more easily deny the realities of life that make us so anxious. The demagogues, in essence, give us permission to deny our own uncomfortable facts and obligations and to live in a world of fantasy.
Ted L. Cox
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Problem Gambling

John Rosengren examined how gamblers can become addicted to slot machines and other casino games, which can ruin—or even, in the case of Scott Stevens, end—their lives (“Losing It All,” December).
I was enlightened and dismayed by John Rosengren’s exposé of the gambling indus-try. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reasoned that since Scott Stevens had the option of placing himself on an exclusion list, the Mountaineer Casino could not be sued for enticing him with “complimentary food and lodging, and by tendering lines of credit on terms that would not otherwise be bargained for.” We are left to conclude that it’s clearly okay to encourage a suicidal person to take daily walks across the George Washington Bridge, so long as he or she has the option of checking into a mental-health facility. And certainly for a bartender to pass by an alcoholic’s home on the way to the bar and say to the alcoholic, “Come with me, the first three drinks are on the house”—so long as Alcoholics Anonymous exists.
Robert Moss
Bloomfield, N.J.

The stories of those struggling with gambling addiction are devastating, which is why the gaming industry takes extraordinary measures to ensure customers enjoy the entertainment experience that casinos provide in a responsible manner and to connect those who need help with treatment.
Our association represents nearly 90 percent of the gaming industry. Our members must abide by a robust code of conduct that outlines measures every casino must take to prevent and address problem gaming, including extensive employee training. Additionally, the industry makes significant investments in peer-reviewed research focused on effective treatment and prevention methods through the National Center for Responsible Gaming.
Even as dozens of new casinos have opened, the rate of problem gambling—in the low single digits—has not increased, according to a suny Buffalo study. And research shows that most people set a budget of less than $200 when they visit a casino.
Without a legal, regulated gaming industry that provides millions of dollars to treatment programs, those struggling with addiction would have few options for receiving help. Indeed, a thriving illegal gambling market offers no protections for consumers and forces law enforcement at every level to dedicate scarce resources to combatting it.
Gaming has become a valued community partner in 40 states, generating $240 billion in economic activity, supporting 1.7 million jobs, and providing $38 billion in tax revenues for vital public services. We understand that some people will never examine the facts and overcome opposition to gaming, but nearly nine in 10 American voters view casino gaming as an acceptable form of entertainment. We look forward to building on our many contributions to the country in the years to come and advocating for safe, responsible gaming.
Geoff Freeman
President and CEO, American Gaming Association
Washington, D.C.

John Rosengren replies:

Geoff Freeman claims that “the gaming industry takes extraordinary measures to … connect those who need help with treatment.”
That’s not what I found in my reporting. At the Mountaineer Casino, which Scott Stevens frequented, I asked a host who had worked there for seven years what he did if he spotted someone with a gambling problem. “We have a hotline,” he said. “It’s up to them to call. Or they can put themselves on a list.” I asked him whether he’d ever suggested that someone in obvious trouble call the hotline or put himself on the list. “That’s not our issue,” he said. “That’s not our concern. It’s not our business.”
I’ll leave it to readers to decide whose words say more.

The Gospel of History

In December’s “The Lessons of Henry Kissinger,” Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed the former secretary of state.
The endorsement of Kissinger by Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and, eventually, by [Hillary] Clinton has normalized him, making his views a central part of American statecraft by casting him as a fount of establishment gospel—a gospel that preaches the value of American humanity and accepts as necessity the casual destruction of other people and places. Normalization of this sort, also perpetuated by figures in the media, policy experts, and academics, is dangerous. It transforms the deplorable into the acceptable. Donald Trump is now trying to make such a shift; there is no guarantee that he will fail.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
Excerpt from a article

Kissinger states that the U.S. “military commitment to Vietnam started with Kennedy.” In point of fact, the military commitment began when the Dulles brothers, John Foster and Allen, were secretary of state and head of the CIA, respectively, during the Eisenhower administration. After turning their backs on Ho Chi Minh, who had sought U.S. support in his fight for independence from the French, they organized covert military support for anti-Minh forces—including air support, weapons, and personnel on the ground.
Ralph E. Cooper, Ph.D.
Waco, Texas

The Big Question: What was the most influential film in history?

(On, readers answered March’s Big Question and voted on one another’s responses. Here are the top vote-getters.)

5. Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 film Triumph of the Will. This propaganda masterpiece glorified Hitler and Nazi Germany’s brand of extreme nationalism, and helped propel Germany toward the most destructive war in history.

— Richard Uncles

4. Citizen Kane, because it reminds us that money and power do not bring happiness.

— Katherine Albers

3. D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation was at once evil and technically brilliant: storytelling on an epic scale. It helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, established the feature film as a serious art form, and was a box-office blockbuster of the silent era.

— Craig Curtis

2. Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, for making way for thrilling story-telling and profitable franchises.

— Michael Driver

1. The Godfather. Francis Ford Coppola’s Corleone family represents the American dream, with all of its pros and cons.

— David Baker

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