Reader Mail

Ben Stein’s Legions

Joel Stein never stood a chance. Plus: Recovering alcoholics, James Frey, and Mark Judge. Remember Maine. Don't Forget Iran. Plus much more.

1.29.06

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PITY CONTEST
Re: Mark Gauvreau Judge's One-Downsmanship:

As a recovering alcoholic who has just celebrated seventeen years of sobriety and who still attends two meetings a week, I disagree with Mr. Judge's conclusions about recovery. Having attended many AA meetings over the years, I have seen my share of horrifying "drunk-a-log" swapping and pity parties but that is why those with sober time under their belts should stick around, not why they should leave. The central idea of AA is that the most effective means of getting sober is one drunk helping another. While the point of recovery is reintegration into society as a whole, the recovering alcoholic should never lose sight of who and what he is. There is no graduation. Besides, how will newcomers ever learn the way out if everyone who has found success leaves?

It is the responsibility of those who have recovered to give back what has been so freely given to them, namely the experience, strength, and hope of those who have gone before them. They need to show the newcomer that there is life after alcohol and it is good. If I don't like the tone of a meeting, it is my responsibility to steer it back onto recovery and to put the focus back on the solution rather than the problem. The most important thing my sponsor taught me is that my recovery is solely my responsibility but, paradoxically, I cannot do it alone. No one ever died because they sat through a "bad" meeting. However, many of us have buried friends who stopped attending AA, forgot what they were, and drank again. That is the real tragedy.

Dr. Bob, the pragmatic half of the duo who founded AA, wrote about why he continued to go to meetings. To paraphrase him, he kept going because of a sense of duty, for pleasure, as payback for those who helped him and as insurance against the next drink. That answer works for me. In recovery, we speak of "trudging the Road of Happy Destiny." Anyone stuck in a recovery cul-de-sac is doing something wrong. I have known alcoholics like James Frey over the years, posturing and embellishing their stories for effect and thinking they have everyone fooled. We simply look them in the eye, smile, and invite them to keep coming back.
-- Anonymous Alcoholic in Maryland

There's much truth in the piece by Mark Gauvreau Judge. Someone out there will relate to your story. To the witches brew of "One-Downsmanship" mix in a handful of repressed memories and a dollop of self-pity. Top off with a heaping spoonful of con artist bravado and voila--an instant best-seller!

Despite Oprah's condemnation, James Frey will continue to seek a market for his book. It's scheduled to come out in paperback with only a slight modification of the title to: "Would You Believe 500,000 Little Pieces?"
-- Stan Welli
Aurora, Illinois

I read James Frey's book in 2005. It is a page-turner, there's no doubt about that, but recent revelations of Frey's "one-downsmanship" don't really surprise me. In that regard, would someone please look into the veracity of the book's most harrowing chapter, where Frey describes getting a root-canal without the benefit of anesthetic? It seems to me that someone who would turn three hours in jail into a three-month stint in the pokey would have no qualms about getting a tooth filled and calling it root-canal.
-- Gavin Valle
Peapack, New Jersey

I, too, am a former drinker. However, I am at odds with Mr. Judge regarding Alcoholics Anonymous. For me, AA was a failure. No, I didn't start drinking again; I just got tired of the "One-Downsmanship" and the whole "disease" mentality. "Drinking" is behavior! I believe, when you "medicalize" behavior, you defer responsibility! Diagnoses provide excuses; excuses offer justification for... more behavior; and on it goes. You want to stop drinking/gambling/drugs, etc.? Stop the behavior! No one's putting a gun to your head.
-- Jon Lindquist
Las Vegas, Nevada

The former Mark G appears to have benefited by his tour in AA. Godspeed with the rest of your life, Mark. I have chosen to regularly participate in the AA fellowship until God calls me home. That's because I feel an obligation to be there when newcomers need direction. God bless those oldtimers that were there when I needed the help.
-- Les P.
Chicago, Illinois

BEN VS. JOEL
Re: Ben Stein's Saints in Armor:

To Ben Stein From a Marine Office in Iraq:

Thank you, God Bless.
-- [classification: UNCLASSIFIED]

It's too bad this article cannot appear on the front page of every newspaper in the country and on every TV in America at prime time. Ben Stein should give the State of the Union Address, or at least, write it.
-- Louis

Thanks to Ben Stein again. I know that there are millions of Americans that "Support our troops." None does it quite as well as Mr. Stein.

Semper Fidelis
-- William R. Costantini
Lieutenant Colonel
United States Marines

I wanted to offer my extremely heartfelt thanks for your article "Saints in Armor." Having read Joel Stein's article as well, with the various mixed emotions that that brought to me, I have an extraordinarily difficult time expressing what your words mean to me. All I can say is that I quite literally cried while reading your article. You are an excellent example of everything that is right with America and the many, many reasons why some of us choose to serve. Thank you again for more than righting the slights of Joel Stein. Best wishes,
-- Sgt. Timothy Courter
United States Army Reserve
Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003-2004

Thank you Ben Stein for your honesty, intelligence and humility.

It is refreshing and comforting to read a column that doesn't whine about what's wrong, but rather shows gratitude for what's right.

I don't like the current situation in Iraq, and certainly wish the U.S. didn't have to sacrifice anymore brave young men & women thousands of miles from home. However, some fights need fighting. Someone must stand for freedom from tyrants. Some of us must die so that many more may live.

That short-sighted, self-involved, spiritually bankrupt Joel Stein wrote a foolish, insensitive column is sad. That the L.A. Times chose to publish and then stand by it, is reprehensible.
-- Paul Zisser
Boca Raton, Florida

Yet another thoughtful bit of writing regarding the quality of the American Military men and women. Perhaps the other Stein never saw the video footage of the Iraqi children as they were released from the prison where Iraq's former dictator held them as punishment for imagined slights by the children's parents. Perhaps this Mr. Stein shielded his eyes to every bit of footage where Iraqi men and women offered flowers and other small gifts to passing American soldiers.

It seems to me that this Mr. Stein has discovered a way to get his 15 minutes of fame, just like a certain congressman who has repudiated every stanza of the Marine Corps hymn. Mr. Murtha has shown himself to be a quisling and not worthy of the term "semper fi." This Mr. Stein is built of the same defective material, and frankly, after reading his prose, when it comes to literary capability within the Stein family, he is not worthy to wipe the screen of your word processor.
-- Bob Beers
Henderson, Nevada

Like Ben Stein, I found Joel Stein's L.A. Times piece on America's soldiers and their heroic battle against murderous despotism to be crass and obnoxious. What a contrast between true wisdom and vapid foolishness.

Ben demonstrates his keen awareness of the stakes in the Middle East. Joel demonstrates his self-absorption.

Ben voices his gratitude for our troops' selfless sacrifice. Joel shows a cowardly elitist's fear of bravery and patriotism.

Ben writes with compassion for the victims of Islamic fanaticism. Joel frets about traffic, trinkets and, of course, Vietnam.

May God help us if Joel Stein's shallow cynicism ever replaces Ben Stein's wisdom and humility in the struggle for Western culture against enemies who would destroy freedom and democracy. By the way, if the Islamic cause is so just- why do they wear masks when waging "holy" war against innocents and children?
-- Deane Fish
Altamont, New York

I read a short column by Joel Stein, from a link on the Drudge Report, about why he does not "support the troops". If that column is the whole text of this matter, then Ben Stein seriously misunderstands his point. Joel Stein does not criticize American soldiers. The war is not the troops' fault; it is the fault of American voters. People who "oppose the war but support the troops"-- for Stein that is a logical impossibility. If you support the troops, you support what they are doing. It negates any political attempt you might make to actually end the war. Your hypocritical sentimentality prolongs the pointless death and disfigurement of war.

The troops are merely doing their jobs. They should get all the human support they need, as human beings, when they return from the war. But, Stein says, "Please, no parades. It seems that what Americans learned from Vietnam is not that we should avoid conflicts in which we have no pressing national interests, but that we should be sure to throw a parade afterwards."

I agree with his reasoning. Our human regard for our own countrymen who loyally serve in uniform, we should not allow that regard to inhibit our political debate about the wisdom of the war itself. We owe it to the troops to conduct our political discourse with rational integrity.

This does not necessarily mean that I agree with Joel Stein about the war. I just agree that people who oppose the war should say so. They oppose what our troops are doing in Iraq. I understand what few people seem to understand, that President Bush has a coherent argument that the Iraq War serves our national interest. In his view, the solution to the problem of fundamentalist Islam- in other words, the solution to the problem of true Islam- is to establish democracy in Muslim nations. I disagree with that hypothesis, but that is the debate that we need to have.
-- DuPree Moore
Mineral Bluff, Georgia

Ben Stein's response to L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein was priceless. Ben's humility and grace is an amazing contrast to those who spit in the face of our troops and their noble mission. People like Joel Stein don't realize how incredibly precious freedom is because they've never had to live without it, never had to spend a day in their miserable lives fighting to keep itâ€"not because their liberties weren't in danger, but because someone else stepped up and said, "I will go." So many of them come back in boxes, some never come back at all. All of those who survive are changed forever, their experiences securing our safety and freedom at the expense of their marriages, their health, and sometimes even their sanity.

The now-fashionable trend of "supporting the troops but not the war" is an admission of ignorance about the events that brought us to Iraq and a slap in the face to those who bleed and die every single day in the defense of freedom and justice. Joel Stein takes that slap one step further, brazenly stating that he doesn't support the troops at all. When one reads the two columns side by side, it is obvious which man cherishes their status as a free American. It is clear which one has the fortitude and strength of conviction to stand for what is right, even at the cost of his life.

John Stuart Mill had it right. Joel Stein only remains free because of the exertions of better men than himself.
-- Kit Jarrell
Euphoric Reality

God bless Ben Stein for his "Saints in Armor" column. The American left cannot win the policy debate, so now they have gone after the soldiers who fight and die for this noble cause.

As a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom II and an Army reserve officer, I was disgusted at Joel Stein's soldier hatchet-job, "Warriors and Wusses." Every generation has its Quisling-Hanoi-Jane, now we have Joel and the L.A. Times. Expect Hanoi Joel appearing on Al Jazeera next week. The L.A. Times is no longer good enough to wrap fish.

Ben (the good Stein) realizes this conflict involves good forces (American, British, Australian, Polish, Ukrainian, South Korean, etc.) destroying evil cruel regimes (Saddam, al Qaeda, the Taliban). The issues are black and white, with good people sacrificing for a noble cause. Ben Stein gets it, too bad the L.A. Times does not.
-- Christopher Crowley
Fort Myers, Florida

Reading your words had the same effect on me as the feeling I get when I say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem at a ball game. You know -- the kind of pride that leaves a lump in your throat and makes the hair stand straight up on your arms.

For every person that agrees with likes of a Joel Stein I bet there are tens of thousands of us that agree with Ben Stein. "Saints in body armor" indeed. When it's all said and done, 20 million people will have a chance to line in freedom because of the work and sacrifice of these "saints." Joel would do well to ask himself what he has done with his life that could hold a candle to any one of these men.
-- Charles Bennett
Athens, Ohio

Ben Stein's rebuttal of Joel Stein's inane writing is what millions of us would say if we only had Ben's gift of language. It was the most powerful, loving tribute to our fighting men and women I have yet seen. I'm mailing a copy to my Marine nephew in Ramadi. As I have told him, "We are ever in your debt." Even Joel, whether he knows it or not.
-- unsigned

Bravo, Ben Stein!
-- Kevin Tobin
Sewickley, Pennsylvania

Just read your column in response to Joel Stein. Beautiful and inspiring. I, too, am in awe. Thanks.
-- Howard Jaeckel
New York, New York

After your great prayer, all I can say is Amen, God Bless You!
-- John P.
Elmhurst, Illinois

Thank you for the fine sentiments you expressed in this article.
-- John A. DiCaro

Well done, Ben!
-- M.L. Gilbert
Bristow, Virginia

Thank you, thank you, Ben Stein.
-- unsigned

Thanks.
-- Steven DiSciullo
Lakewood, Colorado

Amen!
-- Barbara E. Mendleson
Frankfort, Kentucky

FREE MAINE
Re: Neal B. Freeman's A Downeast Tiger?:

Great article! As I read about Ireland I couldn't help but think of New Mexico. I'm sure Maine has some problems but New Mexico more closely approximates the "old" Ireland. I intend to send Mr. Freeman's article to Governor Richardson, the New Mexico Office of Economic Development and my legislators.

Ireland's approach sure beats the current New Mexico initiatives: $250 million (maybe more?) for a space port and a train from Belen to Raton that will cost in excess of $300 million (maybe much more?) for track and equipment with annual operating losses of $9 million on revenue of $1 million. Did you get that? Revenue of $1 million and operating expenses of $10 million.

And, within the next 30 days, the New Mexico legislature will pass a minimum wage bill that raises the minimum wage in New Mexico to $7.50 per hour. A "living wage" that will increase New Mexico's inflation rate thus canceling out the "raise" and which, as a by-product, will ruin people on low fixed
incomes.

Idiocy!

That's life with King Bill and his liberal supporters.
-- Nelson Ward
Ribera, New Mexico

Mr. Freeman neglected to mention how Ireland is meeting its obligations to the world community! He didn't mention how much, if at all, the government intervenes to create equal results for all participants in its economy! He didn't mention any benefit to Mexico or China in any of these new policies! We may assume that there are fewer potato farmers, but how many jobs working at the Irish equivalents of McDonald's or Wal-Mart have been created? Does Ireland freely admit and coddle with government benefits anyone and everyone who manages to reach her shores? Who cuts the grass and cleans the hotel rooms that these newly educated folk disdain to consider? How have the teachers' unions been placated so as to go along with the touted radical reforms in education?

I have to suspect that the Irish people as a whole are just being greedy, self-interested and, dare I say, jingoistic. On an individual level, they are obviously seized by some dementia that causes them to subvert their individual interests for the good of the nation.

No self-respecting American politician would stand for such abominations! Those benighted sods must not set our example! Although "Ireland could 'skip over' the heavy-industry phase of development and enter the modern economy with its environment largely intact," it apparently also "skipped over" legislative and executive initiatives bolstering the ends of civil rights, gay rights, feminism and the trial lawyers.

Harruummphh!

... Mr. Freeman's failure to address these issues raises troubling presumptions about Ireland's fitness for self-government, to say nothing of their fitness to participate in the global economy, notwithstanding their financial success in doing so. Before being seduced by the sweet siren song of success, I trust that the legislators and governor of Maine will address these important matters in a responsible way! Let them take their example from their peers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and aspire to the highest corporate taxes in the nation!

We should be grateful that the sovereign State of Maine is not so sovereign as to be permitted to run afoul of our national policies, which give due regard to the issues mentioned....

It's just occurred to me, in considering troubling presumptions, that Mr. Freeman's name alone should be cause to give any government functionary pause before acting in a precipitous manner to adopt his radical ideas!...
-- Mark Fallert
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The author points out some very obvious things.

I would only add one more thing -- Maine's insane environmental policies. These are killing any kind of growth or innovation that could add jobs to the state.

My husband was born and raised in Maine. Most of his family still resides there. We have tried to move there countless times, but the regulatory insanity destroyed any hope of keeping any jobs we could get there.

Until the new-time Mainers understand that they cannot chase jobs away and still have some kind of tax base or economy or anything else good, Maine's welfare rolls will continue to expand and Maine's youngest and brightest will continue to leave.

Maybe we'll retire there.
-- Anastasia Mather
Staten Island, New York

How did the Blaine House get moved to Cape Elizabeth??

Do the governor and the sleepy legislature have a copy of this article?
-- Tom O'Reilly

SPEECHES OF YORE
Re: Lawrence Henry's Oratory, the Lost Sport:

How long has it been since the last great political speech? Since the last major speech given by the great Ronald Reagan.
-- Ken Shreve

It hasn't been too long since a great political speech. It was delivered by a Democrat: Zell Miller at the Republican National Convention in 2004.

Great speeches do not necessarily need to wax numerous platitudes or intellectual heights. In America at least: they just have to touch folks. Usually, the simpler the context and message of the oratory, the better the speech is. But hey, I'm a simple guy.
-- P. Aaron Jones
Huntington Woods, Michigan

Amazing article. I was lamenting the loss of oratory skills just yesterday with a friend of mine. You may be accused of being preachy, or worse. Hitler, Lenin and Mussolini were great orators so you may be bunched up with them or other demagogues. Grand orators have vanished and we are the worse for it.
-- Joseph R. Davey

TOM CLANCY FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Re: Jed Babbin's Iran Showdown:

Sometimes we all are wrong. In this case, unless you were being totally and completely facetious, there is absolutely no way that we are NOT going to war in Iran. I will take that back if the President calls up an Ohio class "boomer" and turns most of Iran into a glowing green parking lot. We know what the chances of that are.

You have not accounted for two very prime motivators in all of this, short of just Iranian nukes (frightening and dangerous as that prospect is). The first motivator is the brand new Iran-Syria sponsored Hamas er... um... government in the West Bank and Gaza strips. The second problem is the threat against the Straits of Hormuz.

We have been down that path before, with the Reagan Era Tanker War, and then the first Gulf War. The effect of Iran following through and threatening the oil flowing through the straits would be completely unpredictable, with the exception of increasing the world commodity price of oil into the stratosphere. I wonder where our economy finally chokes? Will we keep functioning at $100 a barrel, or perhaps at $150 or $200? What is plain is that the President's popularity (a measure of his political capital) and his strength in dealing with the disloyal opposition in Congress are inversely tied to the price of oil.

I seriously doubt that we will be able to sustain an economy over an extended period with oil at double the current rate. Nor will many of the other nations of the world. That sort of situation (artificially induced shortages of critical raw materials) are the things from which big wars are made.

I do not see that the President has much choice. He either figures out how to form some sort of "legal" pretext to invade or Iran will hold the world hostage. Air power is an important part of the equation in any form of modern warfare. Bombing campaigns have tended to make a determined enemy more determined and much angrier. Conventional bombing unaccompanied by conventional ground operations in Iran, will do no more than dig dirt and kill some people. Until we (meaning several nations of the civilized world) occupy it and help it to achieve something close to a modern pluralistic society there is little hope of doing much more than expending precious fuel and high explosives.

I get the feeling that our "civil" intelligence on Iran is as bad as our intelligence on Iraq. Iranians are not going to overthrow their brutal regime, ever. I am also not convinced in the slightest that we will ever be able to put together an operation to help such a process along. I get the distinct impression from the Iranian expats that I have met who live in the U.S., that we would be much better off executing an open and honest invasion. The understanding that I got from my friends was that skullduggery still smacks of the Shah's "secret police" and would create an acrimonious distrustful adversary instead of an inside ally.

We are proceeding from old stereotypes and patented book answers, just like in Iraq.

No sir, I cannot agree with you. We have the troops if we really want them. We control or have direct access to Iran's northern and western borders, and we can sink their navy within a few days, so we would control the sea approaches. We have the ability (after a little build up) to launch ground attacks from three directions, and dominate their airspace within a few weeks. No one with half a brain is suggesting that it would be easy or bloodless. That is patent nonsense.

The way I see it is that Iran will get to the point that there is no way for Israel to allow the mad mullahs to have nuclear weapons. Israel will do its level best to strike Iran and kick the can down the road. Iran will retaliate by closing the Straits, and driving up the price of oil to astronomical levels in a bid to cripple western economies. At that point the game is over.
-- John W. Schneider, III
Bristow, Virginia

Regarding Iran and other unfolding events in the Middle and Far East, our world is starting to look, smell and resemble a Tom Clancy novel. With the Beast being elected to rule in both Iran and the so called Palestine area, North Korea going off the chart with it Nuclear threats and temper tantrums directed at both it southern cousin and racially purer neighbor to the East, China's increasing threats against Taiwan, a worldwide terror network to do the biddings for their secret but not too secret surrogate masters, one has to wonder who is going to make the opening move in this novel? Add in a little WMD madness coupled with most of the World's governments doing that "French" thing of dropping their collective pants and bending over to get their daily rapture from the latest Beast to appear on Stage (no, it is not George W Bush) and this novel will make someone very, very rich along with killing millions and setting back mankind a bit on it journey to Utopia.

It has long been my belief, since before the Clinton co-presidency came on stage that as the world devolves in socialist dumbocracies the will of any collective of people to withstand even a simplistic external threat, such as illegal immigration for example, would prove too much for democracies to cope with. The Founding Fathers and framers of this republic form of government had more than a little mistrust for democracies in their purest form and 5000 years of recorded history and failures to back up their fears. That's a bit longer than George W. Bush will be in office and even longer than Ted Kennedy's clan has been running the Dumbcrat party.

In a street fight, hesitation will get you killed more often than not and this is one reason we don't want our military acting like street cops. Likewise, that same hesitation will get your nation removed from the top of the food chain in the blink of an eye today. Unlike one of Clancy's novels, the end of this one is unknown and the writer of this piece is deaf, dumb, and blind. The followers of Neville Chamberlain, both then and now, are consistently the enablers for the rise of evil on a wide scale and the primary reason millions have to die or be enslaved before the bulk of the world's population will raise a collective hand to even object to the march of evil across the landscape. While Tolkien insisted his work, Lord of the Rings, was no allegory, the simple truth is that his story has been repeated throughout history time and time again.

The Orcs are on the move and if we don't decisively deal with them, they will deal with us sooner or later. It is only a matter of time, not if. The cowards of our time, who parrot the familiar "give peace a chance," "there has to be a better way" have been singing this tune since the beginning of mankind and wrong for as far back as there is recorded history. We've "given peace a chance" in the Middle East for over 50 years and got six major wars, several minor wars, and an escalating culture of violence there despite the best intentions of some pretty powerful external influences that are all too willing to give advice from afar but not relocate and live under the roof where the problem is. If there isn't a seventh major war in the Middle East, with or without the exchange of nuclear weapons, we will be lucky and "luck" is what "give Peace a chance" and "there has to be a better way" stances depend on in their entirety. Nothing backs them but wishful thinking.

An accurate reading of history will reveal that the most successful people and persons in the world have been risk takers and realists about their beliefs and capabilities. The losers have almost always been the ones that promise the moon and put their faith in "wishful thinking". Symbolism over Substance is another sure sign of failure waiting for an opportunity to succeed. The time for playing it safe is quickly running down and our choices are narrowing to bad and really bad. The only question that remains is who will make the opening moves in this novel. The one who throws the first punch in a street fight usually wins. That first punch today can kill more people than died in WWII if done correctly with the backing of a nation-state, oil-enriched economy like Iran's. Morons blame the oil companies for the price at the pump for our gasoline but it isn't the oil companies that get $1.75 a gallon for unrefined crude before it leaves the well head. That will buy a lot of crude mid range nuclear tipped missiles.

I for one do not want to entrust my safety and life to wishful thinking and the likes of a modern day Neville Chamberlain mindset with WMDs thrown in. Mankind is not perfectible, nor can anything Man endeavors to do be risk free. There will never be a risk or care free life on this planet. The best we can do is beat the Orcs down each time they appear and make the best of life between these times. The village idiots need not be taken seriously.
-- Thom Bateman
Newport News, Virginia

NANO-METER VS. ANGSTROM
Re: David Gonzalez's letter (under "Speed Hacking") in Reader Mail's Cruisng for a Bruising:

Regarding my own letter concerning "Daytime Running Lights" (DRLs), I ended up hoist on the petard of what the young folks call "multi-tasking." Trying to do too many things at once, I substituted "angstrom" for its pint-sized cousin "nanometer." The former is only one-tenth the larger (Heavens to Murgatroyd -- a whole order-of-magnitude!). The adjectival phrase should've read "635 nanometer" -- conversely, though, I could have added the trailing zero to make it "6350 angstrom." Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...
-- David Gonzalez
Wheeling, Illinois

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