Letters — From the September 2008 issue
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The Elephant in the Room
Might I suggest that, in the future, you align the titles of your articles with their actual content? July’s cover story, “High Noon for the Republican Party: Why the G.O.P. Must Die,” presented so provocative a newsstand offering that it actually snatched the coins from my pocket. The juicy headline made it sound as though Gary Cooper himself would be walking the streets of Washington, ready to impose an implacable justice upon the scoundrels who have put us all in peril.
Eagerly, I threw open the cover and raced to read the article, only to find a tepid forum composed of five apparent lost souls who seem united in their belief that the two-party system itself is in danger of bankruptcy, and that the Democrats, given their inept and flaccid approach to building true coalitions for change, are not likely to do anything other than engage the Republicans in the neurotic food fights that have dominated the past.
As a dyed-in-the-wool political cynic, I pretty much agreed with the mild forecasts predicted by your panel, but that is not what the cover promised. If the Democrats had any spine, they would come out blazing with the wrath of Khan, and the outline of such an onslaught should have been the focus of your forum. “We Are in a Pickle and Are Not Likely to Do Much About It” would have been a more appropriate headline for your cover, but then I would have emerged from the bookstore several dollars wealthier.
Despite its headline, reading “High Noon for the Republican Party: Why the G.O.P. Must Die” gave me the sense that burial was being advised for both the Republican and Democratic parties. Considering that both have fostered the rampant spread of two of the most damaging political practices of the past twenty-five years—earmarks and gerrymandering—it is a conclusion I heartily support.
Sharing and Caring
I found Jay A. Stout’s July letter in response to Ben Metcalf’s April Notebook [“Why I Pay My Taxes”] confusing. If Stout and I were to split the cost of a bicycle, presumably we would share ownership of it fifty-fifty. No doubt Stout would agree that it is nonsensical, both mathematically and legally, to say, rather, that we would each have a 50 percent chance of owning the bicycle in question.
Likewise, if we were to pool our resources with others to pay an assassin to kill someone, we would all share responsibility for the subsequent hit, and, if caught, we would all be punished. It would be a meaningless exercise for the court to try to determine which of us funded the assassin’s various preparations and which of us funded the actual killing. It would be an equally meaningless exercise to try to determine what the odds were that any one of us was responsible for the actual death. Yet, amazingly, Stout employs this same empty logic to dismiss concerns that innocent Iraqi deaths, intentional or not, are being paid for with our pooled resources.
Stout’s letter was an ideal opportunity to demonstrate that the military is not composed of unreasonable, unfeeling, uncaring, dim-witted brutes. Unfortunately, his reliance on an unintelligible argument, along with breezy references to human deaths (speaking in nice round numbers about “return on an investment,” as if he were discussing acorns or computers), only reinforces this stereotype. As someone who grew up in a military family, I find this especially disturbing.
How can Stout ask readers to “leave reflection about taking lives to those of us who have actually done it” when his letter provides us with such a compelling reason
The Plot Against CAMERA
After the pro-Palestinian advocacy group Electronic Intifada selectively released posts from the CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) online discussion forum about Wikipedia, disingenuously spinning it as a nefarious plot, the editors at Harper’s Magazine further whittled the collection of posts to a few of the most overzealous by a single participant in the conversation, “Isra guy,” who is neither an employee nor a member of the group. Harper’s published these unrepresentative posts [“Candid Camera,” Readings, July] under the rubric “Plot,” but the idea that Isra guy’s opinionated comments indicate that our Wikipedia effort, which was geared toward encouraging people to learn about and edit the online encyclopedia for accuracy, was a “plot” could not be further from the truth.
CAMERA repeatedly urged all who read the forum to follow Wikipedia’s guidelines, and continues to urge all who visit our website to work toward improving the flawed Wikipedia experiment. Others who feel that Wikipedia has serious shortcomings include the encyclopedia’s cofounder Larry Sanger, who described the encyclopedia as “part anarchy, part mob rule,” and former Encyclopedia Britannica editor in chief Robert McHenry, who has said that Wikipedia is the source of “some very, very bad stuff.”
Senior Research Analyst