Reader Mail

Staying Active

Courting the penumbra. Speeding safety. Levee watch. Work vs. study. Plus much more, including many new Ben Stein-instigated responses.

9.14.05

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FUN STUFF
Re: Judd Magilnick's Somewhere Over the Penumbra:

Ok, I've dusted myself off from rolling on the floor in painful laughter. May I live long enough to see it. The Tancredo v. Bush idea of letters of marque has been suggested in Reader Mail sometime in the past. (I am willing to split the percentage with the Spectator.) But paying bounty is really not that farfetched or old-fashioned. It is similar to the writ of arrest that a bounty hunter uses against someone who has jumped bail.

But I have to say, this is one of the funniest pieces I have read in quite a while. Thanks.
-- John McGinnis
Arlington, Texas

Mr. Magilnick in his "Somewhere Over the Penumbra" essay makes some good points, but starts out by saying that there are no longer any repressed opinions in today's society.

I have to disagree. Every society I ever heard of has its taboos and shibboleths, including ours. Sometimes it is called political correctness, but it's really more than just politics. For example, in today's society, the racists are always white. Officially, at least, there is no such thing as a black racist. The sexists, of course, are always male. Religion can have filth poured all over it, but only if it's Christianity. All other religions -- Islam most of all -- must be handled with hushed reverence. When talking of the frontier wars, it is all about Indian violence against whites, never Indian violence against whites, or even against other Indians.

Of course, it involves more than just general or specific political taboos. There are many others. For example, our ancestors had no trouble talking about age, loneliness, and death, and often did so. We don't -- except briefly at times like Hurricane Katrina.

Tragic views of life really aren't permitted in the public square. If celebrities in public life or nobodies in private life get old or sick, it's as if they become invisible. Widows and widowers don't exist, except in the occasional uplift article showing some oldster as an activist or something. In the most pornographic society in history, we pretend that physical looks don't matter. We ignore (except as comic figures to laugh at) the people who will be alone all their lives because no one wants them. And don't talk about dying alone, or dying at all.

The list goes ever on, but I think the above gives some idea.
-- John Lockwood

I think you should add another item: U.S. Congress vs. Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kennedy. The Constitution demands that, under oath, Supreme Court justices (and all other judges in the Judicial Branch) uphold and defend the United States Constitution. These judges have affirmed that they look to the laws and constitutions of other countries in forming opinions on issues before the United States Supreme Court. Therefore, they should be impeached and FIRED; for violating their oath of office, which must be considered a "high crime" and an impeachable offense.

End of "judicial activism."
-- unsigned

MOVING ALONG
Re: Eric Peters's Safe At Any Speed:

Eric Peters is too sanguine about the risks of speeding on our highways. Although many drivers have the skills and equipment to safely travel 75-80 mph, there are many more who do not. I see too many distracted drivers talking on cell phones traveling at unsafe speeds. I doubt that some of them have checked their tire pressure in months, just to mention one equipment-related factor.

As to the reduction in highway deaths, don't forget that there have been great improvements in the trauma response apparatus during this time; some of this reduction actually reflects better survival DESPITE high speed crashes.
-- Joseph Hamad, M.D.
Cincinnati, Ohio

I agree with your article ("Safe At Any Speed") with one observation. There appears to be a polarization of traffic patterns associated with the change back to "high speed" driving. It seems there are only two types of drivers these days, those that drive below the posted speed limit (with a cell phone attached to an ear, and the seat set in the "waaaay back" position) and the rest of us at 5 to 10 mph over the posted speed limit. This creates some dangerous situations, especially on the interstate system. Along with higher speed limits we need a better system of training young folks merging into the driving scene and monitoring older folks driving abilities more frequently after age 65 (OK, 70, well OK, 75, or maybe 80). I'm sure AARP loves this topic. I don't have the answer but I know we can't continue to just issue licenses to anyone that can parallel park and call them qualified nor can we continue to allow older folks to drive through grocery stores that don't have drive-through service. It's not about restricting young folks just because they're young or getting rid of the older folks just because they're old. It's a matter of recognizing and accepting the fact that young folks are simply less experienced drivers and eye/hand coordination as well as our faculties decrease with age. I'm sure none of this makes for a good 15-second sound bite, so it probably has no political legs.
-- unsigned

I certainly admire Mr. Peters's tenacity and single-minded purpose. This article, after all, being his 427th published on Spectator online in the last six months pushing the exact same agenda. I don't disagree with Mr. Peters at all. Normally on a highway I settle in at a comfy 70-75 mph if traffic allows. I find that to be a perfect speed for me, not too fast and not too slow. Yet there is something in his logic that strikes me as odd. Mr. Peters concludes that since fatalities have gone down since speeds have gone up, that must mean that faster speeds are safer. Come on, man. Don't you think the more likely reason there are fewer fatalities is that the cars themselves are safer? That would seem to make more sense.

Anyway, keep up the good work. We need people like you to stand up and call "speeding tickets" by their real name, "revenue boosters." Just cut the bad logic if you want lawmakers to take you seriously.
-- Chuck Lazarz
Reading, Pennsylvania

I think that Mr. Peters's article makes a good point, but he is over-simplifying the matter of traffic safety.

Yes, roads are safer when you can drive at the speed for which the road was designed. That is certainly part of the equation.

But there are several other factors that come into play with motor safety:

1. Improved vehicle design. Cars are better made today than they were 35 years ago. Remember the Pinto?

2. Seat belts. If you read police reports about most traffic deaths, the one phrase that jumps out in nearly every report is "the deceased was not wearing a seat belt." In an accident, being thrown from a speeding car, or bouncing around the inside of a car, kills people. I know there are a lot of people who grumble about the "tyranny" of mandatory seat belt laws, but the inconvenience is minor compared to the cost savings to society at large which chooses to pick up the tremendous health costs incurred by reckless drivers.

3. Air bags.

4. Driver education. I'm 48 and an average driver, with a few fender-bender accidents and only two tickets in my driving life. But I never had a formal driver's education course such is required in the High School my children attend. I have to assume that they will ultimately be better drivers than me.

5. Gridlock. Strange as it sounds, I propose that gridlock is at least partially responsible for lowering the death rate in accidents. Many of the once high speed roads in major urban areas are now extremely congested. It's difficult to accelerate to a life threatening speed when you are moving bumper-to-bumper at 5 mph.
-- Bob C.

WHY LEVY FOR LEVEES?
Re: Ralph R. Reiland's Why the Levees Are Not Dry:

Your bizarre contribution to "Blame Bush for Katrina Syndrome" ("Why the Levees Are Not Dry") reminds me of a graduate course in economics of healthcare I took several years ago. One case study featured a woman who was "unable" to have some health screening (I think it was a mammogram) because her insurance wouldn't pay for it (Cost: about $90).

The woman was employed and middle class. Why would she neglect an important screening that could save her life for the price of two trips to the hairdresser?

Similarly, why would politicians in New Orleans and Louisiana risk disaster just because the federal government didn't pay the last $250 million of the cost of levees?

I believe both are "victims" of Dependency Syndrome. I also note the Army Corps of Engineers disputes Mr. Reiland's assertion that the federal government failed to fully fund the levee project.
-- John R. Matthews
Abilene, Texas

Have I somehow been diverted to the Daily Kos? Just where did you find this [contributor]? The answers are located in New Orleans Levee Board, Housing Authority of New Orleans, and the Corrupt Democrat Party of Louisiana.

Professor, the levees collapsed; they were not overflowed. Can you say substandard materials? If overflow occurred, the damage in areas surrounding the levees would have been devastating. Look around, there is not even a shingle blown off a roof.

Spectator, you should be ashamed for publishing crap like this.
-- Ron La Canne
Burlington, Wisconsin

OK, so the Feds cut spending necessary to fix the levees. Can the good professor explain why the feds are responsible for fixing the levees, rather than the people residing in that state? How is this Alaska's problem?
-- unsigned

The author Ralph R. Reiland gives compelling facts as to why money was not being spent on the levee system around New Orleans, unfortunately he leaves out the fundamental question that should have been asked from the beginning -- why should the federal government (i.e. you and I) pay for it? This levee system is a local problem and local problems are best handled by the local population.

I also realize that pork projects are an unfortunate way of life today, but this is an example of a pork project at its worst. We have a local area building in a terrible location expecting others to be responsible for their irresponsibility.

It is time that we started expecting people to be responsible for their own actions, don't you think?
-- Randy Herzog

This is total nonsense to print something authored by an economics professor from Pittsburgh.

Why print something that you haven't verified. The budget for the levees in New Orleans was never cut.
-- Herbert R. Martin

LEND ME YOUR YEAR
Re: Reuven Brenner's The Three Year Plan:

Mr. Brenner makes a good point that "college" could be completed in three years instead of the American four and oftentimes five years. However, he appears to base this opinion on his observations about the higher education practices of Israel.

It should be noted that high school graduates in Israel have been taught and have learned history, reading, writing, and arithmetic plus a large dose of "Economics" and "Civics." So, when they go to college, they no longer need basic courses and can target their studies on their personal goals to obtain skills, competencies, etc. This focus is common with the U.S. for technical schools like DeVry.

Our high schools fall far short of these standards.

A second complicating factor is that within the U.S. the dominance of teachers unions and tenure produce a significant avoidance to computer based learning or anything else that streamlines education and (obviously) reduces the demand for and demands of "teachers."

Lastly, how many courses are devoted to "social issues" in Israel? Again, these "issues" are covered at and below high school and are not allowed to be "major areas of study" in any way shape or form. "Soft majors" are treated like "hobbies" in Israel.

So, upgrade high school academic requirements and require testing for college and you might simply be left with unwinding the layers of socio-political silt typically reflected in our universities and colleges where the "leadership" appears to believe that they are entitled to provide a four to five year education no matter what more efficient, valuable, or cost-effective alternatives may have already been created.

In short, a three-year approach focuses on results while our four to five year approach is overwhelmingly focused on process and financials. (A reduction from a four to three years reduces revenues -- tuition -- by 25% and that would over time require the reduction in staffing -- union dues -- and a rethinking of tenure.)
-- Bill Toutz
Appleton, Wisconsin

Though it's odd to write my own magazine, I'm curious about Reuven Brenner's piece. A recent college graduate, I can honestly say that with all the non-learning going on in higher education, one might as well just take three years, but I hardly think that the year plan Brenner describes would be as much of an economic boom. Israel benefits by having students enter school later in life, with greater focus and discipline thanks to military conscription (a form of which might be worthwhile to include in American schools).

With all the distribution requirements that universities mandate, it's surprising anyone can pursue any subject seriously in four years. One of the classes that prevented me from graduating on-time, let alone early, was for a requirement called, "Non-western Civilization." Of course, geography had nothing to do with it, as a course in Australian literature didn't make the cut -- administrators felt it was better to relieve the burden of Christendom on the curriculum.

We can all dream of how schools might some day actually live up to our expectations -- but four years, if well-spent, with a strong foundation in liberal arts, will produce a higher quality student. Now, what does the Solomon amendment have to say about requiring all state schools to hold mandatory drills...
-- J. Peter Freire

BEN, BEN, BEN
Re: Ben Stein's More on Katrina and Get Off His Back and Reader Mail's Ben Quells Media Riot:

Thank you for your accurate input, I too have been watching and cannot believe that people are still blaming President Bush. I do enjoy your vision of truth. I am truly proud of what we as Americans have.
-- Lori Figueroa

I think in times like these with what we see unfolding on the Gulf coast, it's best if people such as yourself just keep your mouths shut. Wealthy Republicans are showing just how out of touch with reality they are.
-- Joseph P. Hapeman

What a clown. Bush for once has admitted the buck stops with him, so where does Ben Stein get off saying nothing is Bush's fault.
-- unsigned

...I used to have some respect for Ben Stein for some thoughtful commentary. It is clear from this piece that he is now in league with Karl Rove and administration attempts to blame this disaster on state and local authorities. Rove has managed to fool a lot of people a lot of the time, but he and Bush will go down in flames if they persist in this "not my fault" strategy that is unworthy of a nine year old.
-- Ron Andrews

After reading Mr. Ben Stein's recent articles regarding Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and all the blame being heaped upon President Bush, I must admit I am now a fan of his wisdom.

I find that not many people dare speak the blunt and obvious truth mixed with jabs at insanity as he does. If only those who seem to speak the loudest but say the least would take heed and get to actually *helping* those in need...

Thanks Ben!
-- Stuart K. McNeil
Dothan, Alabama

In simple words Ben Stein has explained how the liberal media distorted and even lied about George Bush's handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The media almost got away with this and would have before the internet and conservative talk radio. The attack on Bush was so vicious and pervasive, and misleading, starting with the NY Times, that they had even convinced conservatives of Bush's incompetence. But the conservatives are now waking up and realizing that they had been conned by the media onslaught. Slowly, gradually as New Orleans and the Gulf is built up again, Bush will be seen as its savior!
-- Frank Di Silvestro

I'd like to add one thought to Mr. Stein's well-founded piece.

Complaints that President Bush ought to have automatically nudged aside the city and state governments assume that the U.S. ought to be modeled on the late Roman Empire.

Bush wasn't there first with the most because no American president ought to have the power to override state and city governments, take their troops, move in with others, assume legal control of vast swaths of land, order the disposition of money and people and obliterate the importance of local officials for an unspecified time.

We have a government fashioned specifically to avid concentrating that much power in one office. The governor that doesn't understand why she had to ask for federal troops and help isn't a worthy holder of any office
-- Tim Harris
Los Angeles, California

Thank you for this wonderful article. My only regret is that it cannot get space in the New York Times or the Washington Post. Do we the American people have to pay money to get a worthy article like this printed in a liberal newspaper? If it weren't for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the conservative press the American people would be completely in the dark as to what's going on in our country. What a pity... the whole world sees us as the liberal media speaks. God help us!
-- Verna Daniel

In response to Ben Stein's comment, "But can anyone name a natural disaster in which more federal troops, supplies, and money have been dispatched as quickly as they have been done in this disaster?"

I would call attention to this article.

Which discusses the FEMA and National Guard response to the flooding and near destruction of Grand Forks, N.D., by the Red River in 1997, considered at the time the eighth-worst national disaster in history. It included an evacuation that was, up until New Orleans, the largest since Atlanta during the Civil War.

The response to Grand Forks shows what FEMA can and should be able to do. New Orleans shows that it's been gutted to the point where it can do nothing.
-- Steve Thompson
Minneapolis, Minnesota

I greatly enjoyed Ben Stein's spirited defense of the Dear Leader ("Get Off His Back," 9/2/05). In his piece, Stein effectively defeats the argument, widely seen in the liberal media, that the Dear Leader actually caused Hurricane Katrina. He adds, "There is not the slightest evidence at all that the war in Iraq has diminished the response of the government to the emergency. To say otherwise is pure slander."

Needless to say I was disappointed to read that Lt. Gen. Stephen Blum, head of the National Guard Bureau, stated that the occupation of Iraq had in fact affected the ability of the National Guard to respond to the emergency. In addition, I was shocked to read that troops from the Gulf Coast, who requested 15 day leaves to tend to their ruined homes and scattered families, were refused the leaves and told by their commanders, "There are too few U.S. troops in Iraq to spare them."

My question is this: Will Ben Stein stand behind his words and call General Blum and these obviously biased field commanders to answer for their slander of the Dear Leader? Since Mr. Stein is an attorney, he could file the suit himself. It would, arguably, be the highlight of his distinguished career, rivaled only by the time he made an obscene gesture on national TV to a woman whose opinion he disagreed with.
-- Grant Miner
Costa Mesa, California

It is about time someone has written about the awesome job Bush has done! Three days before Katrina hit, he declared the Gulf a disaster. It is beyond me how the local and state government could be so negligent, and then lash out at our President.

Thanks for writing the truth. Please keep it UP. The truth needs to be heard....
-- unsigned

I just wanted to congratulate you on some of the wonderful articles written by Ben Stein. He does a great job of getting straight to the heart of the matter and making sense. He is particularly astute in is observations on Hillary Clinton's approach to medical care as she is basing her plan on our own care model here in Canada. Our Medicare system is the worst example in the world of bureaucratic waste and inefficiency. The middle class in Canada pays through the nose for the chance to wait in line and die before getting treatment; you do not want our system where even if I can afford treatment I am not allowed access. God Bless America because no one else in this world seems willing to defend freedom and democracy anymore.
-- Jim Brown
Lethbridge, Alberta

It is amazing that the people that wrote to this site on the opinions of Ben Stein seemed to disagree with him. However, all their complaints about him and the President's actions or inactions are based on the media coverage. We have plenty of wealthy people in this country. And I want to say where were you? Why weren't you motivated to go yourselves to help in the rescue?...May God forgive us all.
-- J. Snider
Missouri

...If the idiots in FEMA, the clueless Louisiana governor and the idiot mayor of New Orleans were not doing the job, Bush's job was to either call them to task to do their job or make sure someone was doing the job needed to protect and save our brothers, to do what was needed. No one is blaming Bush for the storm or the problems over which he had no control and if someone is, not many Americans are going to take heed. The one thing that is totally lacking from our leaders is open honesty. Gee, what a novel idea....
-- John Picchiotti

There is currently a lake at the North Pole and it is getting bigger every day. That is proof of global warming. Also, Christians have long slurred witchcraft or Wicca as it is known today. Wicca is a nature religion that does not involve blood letting and does not worship the devil. They do not even acknowledge the devil exists because they prefer to take responsibility for their own actions, just like Buddhists do. Furthermore, I'm glad I didn't vote for Bush.

Thank you.
-- Dorothy Kulik

Your article "More on Katrina" published Sept. 12 is fabulous -- best one I've seen yet on Katrina. It's right on the mark, but unfortunately it won't be read by the very Americans who need to read it most. George Bush is a strong man and we're lucky to have him at the helm -- just wish he'd be stronger at cutting the federal budget...
-- Terri Schultz

I just received a copy of Ben Stein's 9/2 column today. Why it made me so incensed, I can only guess. It was condescending and demeaning, an apology for George W. Bush and his inappropriate initial reaction to Hurricane Katrina.

Yes, some outrageous accusations have been made but Stein takes it to another level here, leaving out some truths in order to make his case that his buddy is being picked on unfairly. One outrageous accusation does not cancel out a real failure, such as the cutting of funds requested to fix the levees before this happened. And, yes, there is blame at local and state levels in this disaster, but that does not mean exoneration at the federal level. My confidence in our government to help us when it is needed has been shaken even more, and, regrettably, the entire world has seen its failure....
-- Barbara H. Kelly
Liberty, New York

Will everyone stop worrying about George Bush feeling downtrodden because the mainstream media do not love him? He knew from when the lights went out after the first Inaugural Ball that he was the fox in the longest hunt in history with hounds baying and nipping at his heels every step of the way.

George Bush has no interest in courting the media, being loved by the media, singly or in groups. What he has is what any person of normal intelligence has regarding MSM -- a total disregard tinged with the tiniest whiff of contempt. He has a gentlemanly respect for those few who treat him fairly. But those who have it in for him are out of luck, out-classed and out-maneuvered. Another thing that doesn't faze Bush is polls -- a 40% approval rating is only four points below pre-Katrina. Besides, who remembers Harry Truman's 20%? Didn't bother Harry. Doesn't bother Bush.

What galls the MSM is that Bush never rises to the bait. So, they try harder and look sillier. No matter how outrageous the attack, how dishonest the story, he doesn't give them the satisfaction of acknowledgement or reply. He just allows the story to play out -- as in the Dan Rather romp. MSM is ultimately found to be mendacious merchants of junk "journalism." How do we not gag, giving them that lofty title?

How will MSM spin the story that Mayor Nagin has moved to Dallas, bought a home there, enrolled his child in school? I call it bugging out. They will likely say his was driven from office by White House criticism -- lost his effectiveness as mayor as blame was unfairly shifted to him. No, wait. Corrupt as Louisiana politics is, he will probably continue as mayor, drawing a big salary, commuting from the Big D to the Big Easy. Or just phone it in. Maybe all those buses were being held in reserve to transport his belongings in the Great Escape.
-- Diane S. Smith
South San Francisco, California

You are priceless. Your sane commentaries speak volumes. Thanks.
-- Nan Patton

LISTEN RADIO?
Re: Jed Babbin's Amateur Hour Is Over:

Another thought-provoking article from Jed Babbin. All of his points are well taken and should have been a part of the FEMA organization from the start.

There is one thing that most people seem to miss regarding this agency. That is that there are two FEMA's. The one that could be and the one that is.

FEMA, as set forth in the Executive Order 12148, is an incredibly powerful agency and the Director of FEMA is granted virtually unlimited powers over the various agencies within the Executive Branch during any time of emergency or civil defense. The Director of FEMA can, literally, commandeer the resources of any agency: DOD, DHS, FBI, Treasury, EPA, even the White House janitorial staff if he deems it necessary to do so. Such action being subject to countermanding only by the President.

The FEMA that is, however, has been reduced to little more than a bank that issues checks to cover the cost of state and local expenses for dealing with an emergency. It also does threat assessments and provides programs to assist local agencies with disaster planning. However, this latter function is largely ignored by everyone outside the agency.

Mr. Babbin is correct in all that he writes concerning what FEMA lacks in an emergency, C-cubed, and the leadership with the knowledge and the guts to use it. FEMA was never intended to be a large agency. It was supposed to have extensive knowledge of resources available from other Federal agencies and the necessary ability to instantly coordinate the assets available to aid and assist state and local officials in times of emergency.

Now this is the sticky part. The federal government cannot assume the primary responsibility for command and control of response elements for an emergency without the permission of the head of the state government, unless that government has been disrupted to the point that it can no longer function. So, no matter how dynamic the leadership of FEMA may become, an intransigent governor can still throw a huge monkey wrench into the gears.

We'll see in what ways this agency changes after this, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for any big changes. Agency heads in Washington guard their power jealously and will fight any expansion of another agency into their fiefdom.
-- Michael Tobias
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

As usual, Jed Babbin is on the mark. I agree with his analysis of FEMA, and note there must be considerable belated agreement in the current administration with his analysis, else why would VADM Allen be the go-to FEMA guy for the Katrina disaster?

There seems, however, to be a strong reluctance to appointing retired military to positions of responsibility in Federal agencies. Is this because they have an abiding distaste of bureaucratic inertia and hand wringing? Military and Coast Guard leaders who have ascended to flag rank have usually been thoroughly vetted by their career experiences. There are exceptions, which I could point out, but won't.

Also, the country wouldn't have to worry about their padding their resumes. Career assignments, and people with knowledge of them, are an open book. They tend to make politicians look bad by comparison, given their preference for problem solving and direct action over bloviation.
-- R. Goodson
Vero Beach, Florida

THE NEUMAYR CHANNEL
Re: George Neumayr's Masques of Death:

You probably have been inundated with gigabytes of email but I just had to tell you that I absolutely loved and completely agree with all that you have said. You need a spot on every local news channel in the U.S. I know that there are masses of Grey Tribes that have been hushed by the pink, mostly in fear of being labels racists or bigots. At least that's how I feel. Please keep up what you are doing. I feel empowered by your article. Thank you!
-- Cliff Johnson III

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