Reader Mail

Gentlemen’s Disagreement

Standing up for Gregory Peck (against Ben Stein). Also: Incremental politics. Rumsfeld liberated. Hospital cleanup. A military dad’s thoughts. Plus much more.

12.29.04

ALL STAND
Re: Ben Stein's Riefenstahl Madness:

The denigrating comments Ben Stein made about Gregory Peck struck me as so incorrect that I had to write. Gregory Peck was my father, and Mr. Stein does not know what he is talking about.

Specifically, my father not only played a fighter for the cause of civil rights in To Kill A Mockingbird, but he fought the good fight throughout his career. I may have to refresh Mr. Stein's memory as to my father's civic achievements. Does Mr. Stein forget Gentleman's Agreement? That was a daring call at the time. Beyond his well documented political activism for civil rights and liberal candidates, dad worked for civic organizations such as the Inner City Theater in Los Angeles, and for civil rights issues and for the arts on the national level as well. He turned down roles at the peak of his career so that he could concentrate on public charities, and campaigns. He was a founding Board member of the National Endowment for the Arts, and a founder of the American Film Institute. I will not list more causes. His family noted with pride, though, that they were generously cited in his many warm and overwhelmingly admiring obituaries.

The point of the article to which I object was Mr. Stein's cheap shot about shallow actors. Perhaps if he did some research then his memory might be corrected in regards to one great American artist.

Mr. Stein, stand up when you talk about him.
-- Carey Peck

Ben Stein replies:
What are you talking about? I didn't make any mean comments about your father. I said he played a man risking his life for civil rights in a movie. I don't think you can question that, can you?

Was he really Atticus Finch? Did he really face a lynch mob? Did he really shoot a rabid dog with open sights at a great distance?

I have no doubt that your father was a fine man. I had the honor of meeting him at Norman Lear's house. I am a huge admirer of his talent and civic achievements. With the greatest possible respect, all of the achievements you list of his do not make him into a freedom worker in the deep South.

Calm down. No one is attacking your father.

P.S. Now that I think about it, it was Scout who faced down the lynch mob in TKAM.

But, again, my comments were not in the slightest denigrating to your father, a genuinely fine man and great talent. And Gentleman's Agreement was a fabulously powerful movie.

ONE DAY AT A TIME
Re: David Hogberg's Incremental Conservatism:

It seems that David Hogberg does not get the "vision thing." His plea for incrementalism ignores the desire for fairness and moral clarity on the part of the electorate.

One reason to eliminate the home mortgage deduction is as part of a trade off to save Social Security. That is a big issue where the voters might consider making some compromises. The home mortgage deduction goes exclusively to homeowners. Those who rent or are saving to buy their first home get nothing. Is that fair to the younger generations who already are charged with supporting Social Security? NO!!!

But why do anything with housing? Because the best place for the timid to put their personalized Social Security funds is into their own homes. That is the investment they know best. It is likely to be the largest investment they will make in their lifetimes. And it is a tangible asset that has real palpable worth. They do not need to withstand the vagaries of Wall Street. Let the mortgage brokers do that.

Now it might be desirable to sell the plan by adopting a phase-in period. Allow the homeowner to deduct mortgage interest on a declining scale. Reduce the deduction 10% a year until phase out after ten years or re-financing of the loan, whichever comes first. Since the average term of a mortgage is well below ten years, this will allow the homeowner to adapt without undue strain. Vision, fairness and practicality; that is the ticket!
-- Bruce Thompson

One may argue the merits of Big Bang vs. incrementalism till the cows come home. Either technique might achieve the same aim. Yes the pain thresholds can differ. But incrementalism has one fundamental flaw that you address inappropriately -- continued perpetuation of the bit twiddler in seats of power.

You make the assumption that the Republicans having now achieved rough majority, can using the incremental approach achieve what the Reagan Revolution and Gingrich Compact failed to achieve in some measure. I can't discount that it might work, but considering the output of the just concluded omnibus bill, e.g. the little sliver that Senators and Congressmen be given the right to look at individual tax returns the likelihood is small indeed. Your precept does not allow for the consideration that once a power is achieved is not given up readily. As such, incremental approaches hardly ever remove such powers from people that should not have them.

Using the incremental approach, we still might be struggling with the Articles of Confederation and all it's flaws. Using the incremental approach the Union might still be in negotiations about the boundaries of the Mason-Dixon line. Using the incremental approach George Wallace might have died on the school house steps of old age.

Would it not be better for the country to adopt the Fair Tax Initiative bodily rather than creep up to it? Certainly there is a shock to the country in the initial phase; but for that shock individuals and businesses gain immediate relief. A change to a consumption based taxation that promotes savings. A change to a baseline that automatically indexes government revenues to the health of the economics of the country. (Now there's a Democratic shocker!) Would reduce the influence of the bit twiddler and 'K' Street for not having influence to materially affect code reduces the need for lobbyists.

As Jefferson is quoted -- "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Only now we should substitute bureaucrats for tyrants. Fundamentally your article disavows the primary aim of conservatism -- the gross reduction of government in our lives.
-- John McGinnis
Arlington, Texas

David Hogberg is right. Nothing wrong with some incremental conservatism -- after forty years of excremental liberalism.
-- Jay D. Homnick

REGULATORY CAPTURE
Re: Betsy McCaughey's Doctors Must Wash Hands:

I don't much care for the ideas for reducing infection outlined in the article. It's clear that regulatory capture has occurred and the problem will just re-emerge after a new layer of regulations has been laid down. Imagine a health care system similar to a voucher system funded for "all" with transferable debit card balances coupled with mandatory high-deductible private insurance (with subsidies for the poor). Decentralized voluntary community organizations would watch over local health care providers and also have debit accounts to pay uncollectible bills and accept voluntary donations from the accounts of the healthy. Such a system would eliminate armies of bureaucrats, fund routine care, inject market competition, provide much needed information to consumers, etc.

Currently we spend $1.5 trillion a year on health care ($5,000/capita). Costa Rica has the same average life expectancy and spends $300/capita. It's probably far-fetched to think we could ever reduce actually reduce health care costs, but how about just socializing the costs and improving efficiency? I submit that competition and free markets are the only mechanisms with any kind of favorable track record. Thoughts from a retired physician.
-- Jerome Sheridan, M.D.

A MILITARY DAD
Re: Ben Stein's Gratitude:

My son is with a Marine Corps unit which will be making its third rotation to somewhere in the Sunni Triangle beginning in February. He is in a weapons company and being a large guy, likes to be the point man, kicking in the door. I'm his biggest fan; nevertheless, this gives a father cause to think a bit.

One of the most compelling thoughts I have concerns the seemingly universally accepted notion that our "professional" (read: not drafted) armed forces are just so much better than ever.

Some argue that this is necessary because of the training required to master complex new technology. Curiously none of these observers want to talk about how easy this technology is to learn and how much we pay defense contractors to make it so.

Most, though, are just happy that we basically don't have to think about it much. I mean, how many educated families do you know who really have a son or daughter in uniform, let alone in a combat unit? The author Frank Schaeffer has written eloquently about how shocked his friends and neighbors were to find out such a thing could happen.

I don't think it was a coincidence that it was a National Guard member who actually had the nerve to ask Defense Secretary Rumsfeld the armor question. No career service member would dare to ever open his mouth over a controversial issue, the merits aside. This is precisely the reason no field officers are heard to be asking their Commander in Chief for more troops. The President has made a major issue of rejecting this course of action. It would be immediate career suicide to oppose a major policy of the CIC. With only career personnel, who is to speak up?

Furthermore, last year retired General Tommy Franks came to town and spoke. Someone asked him why more troops were not committed to the Iraq invasion and his response was literally, "That would have been so Norm Schwartzkopf." Here you have a war commander who is more concerned about imprinting his own methods than he is anything else. The fact is that we have enough troops in Iraq to make plenty of targets, but not enough to secure the borders, towns and pipelines. Does any reasonable person actually believe that with the manpower we used in our first Iraq invasion we could not do a better job of keeping the peace?

So much of modern life is absorbed by an "entitlement" mentality, when our country was built up by people who thought only about the "opportunity" mentality. Young people could be enticed (or compelled) to give 2 years of service to their country after high school and our society, the military and these citizens would all be better off for it. If the Democrat John F. Kennedy could inspire young people to national service, why can't a Republican do the same today?

But that's just the opinion of one Marine dad. Thanks for your time.
-- Bob Day
Denver, Colorado

RUMMY UNLEASHED
Re: Jed Babbin's Let the Big Don Run:

As usual, Jed Babbin's got it right. As usual, someone in the White House should be shoving Babbin's thinking in front of the President. The country needs a smart, tough-minded guy like Rumsfeld, running defense, and it's clear, or should be, that the forces in the field need him and appreciate him; what the country and the forces in the field do not need are the liberal media abetted by such as McCain, Lott, Hagel, et al, undermining confidence in the leadership of the war effort. It's disgusting.
-- John G. Hubbell
Minnetonka, Minnesota

Once again Jed Babbin hits the nail on the head. The growing chorus screaming for Rumsfeld's head tells us more about Trent Lott, John McCain, Dan Rather and the execrable Maureen Dowd than about Rummy.

"A prophet is without honor in his own country." It is ever so. David Steinberg had a comedy routine about critics: "Critics are like eunuchs at a gang-bang. They know what's going on; they can point it out, and they can comment on it, but they can't do it."

All I can say is "Hang in there, Rummy. You are obviously a person who is much more concerned with doing a good job than polishing your image, and such people are very, very rare in our government. Bush is fortunate to have you on his team, and we are fortunate that you have a boss who won't leave you hanging and twisting slowly in the wind."

Now, if Bush would just figure out how to ease Colin Powell "out to grass" as soon as possible, the prospects would certainly be looking up. The sooner we get Condi Rice at Foggy Bottom to work in tandem with Rummy at the Pentagon, the better for our country both here and abroad, and today and tomorrow. We're playing this game for keeps, people!
-- Bob Johnson
Bedford, Texas

In the end, only three things matter. One, is Mr. Rumsfeld doing his job satisfactorily in the eyes of the president? Yes. Do President Bush and the troops like and trust Mr. Rumsfeld? They apparently do, regardless of those in the MSM, punditry, academia, Congress and elsewhere who don't.

The anti-Rumsfeld sentiment is not just the chattering of the cowardly and opportunistic, but also the whining of the embittered and irrelevant. Drive on, Mr. Secretary-and let the housecleaning of the stars begin!
-- C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

Did some fiendishly cunning Old EUnuch slip some crystal meth into Secretary Babbin's mulled wine over the festive period ('Let The Big Dog Run')?

Last week he said he wanted a U.S. Senator, Jay Rockefeller, investigated. Today, an investigation by the U.S. Congress comprised, what was it, oh yes, "a six hour marathon" of "little speeches by little men." Now all the generals are to be fired!

What is going on, Jed? Are you having second thoughts about the glory of constitutional government and the separation of powers?

Or are you showing your true colors?

I'll finish your article for you. The "notable neocon magazine" Secretary Babbin accuses of political cowardice is The Weekly Standard controlled by the Australian-born pornographer and serial husband Keith Rupert Murdoch. The principal political coward on its staff is its editor, Bill Kristol, a failed Washington guy and rabid "neoconservative," who in editorials in his own magazine and in the Washington Post has attempted to turn the Secretary of Defense into a Soviet-era non-person after years of having his ideological bidding done. This is not at all surprising since Kristol is, as the Jedster says, a "neoconservative" whose politics are rooted as much in the Marxist-Leninist beliefs of Leon Trotsky and Max Shachtman as in anything ever promoted by Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan.

And anyone who has ever promoted neoconservatism is at heart a Marxist-Leninist too.

There, I said it. I feel better already.

But what the heck. I suppose it's none of my business.
-- Martin Kelly
Glasgow, Scotland

Left unsaid in your article are two items:

1) Would someone else do better? If so, let the ankle biters suggest that individual. But I think they will come up empty.

2) Bush, if anything, is playing coy. I am sure Rumsfeld knows he's the lightening rod and Bush want's it that way. To suggest a replacement detracts from the mission and assures no better end result than that provided by Rumsfeld's leadership. That the Senators are all jumpy pretty much indicates that Rumsfeld is getting under the skin of the JCS which is what Bush intended.

If one looks at the cabinet changes Bush has instituted the one constant is shake up of the status quo. That Rumsfeld is but a few men still standing is indication that he has been doing what Bush wanted from his first term appointees -- systemic change.
-- John McGinnis
Arlington, Texas

Very good article by Jed Babbin. He is a great writer. We listen to him as a guest on the talk show Lee Rodgers & Melanie Morgan program -- KSFO, San Francisco -- from time to time. I know Jed is one of the favorite guests on that show.
-- Lois & Jerry Sykes
Penn Valley, California

PSYCHED OUT
Re: Ilana Mercer's Coddling Killers:

Ilana Mercer has, along with a few others, has noticed that in crafting psychological explanations for deviant behavior, the exceptions prove the rule rather than call for a different or revised rule. In any other science, the failure to explain and predict past or future natural events would be a call to revising faulty theories. Unlike physics, which has evolved with awareness of diminishing particle size, Psychology has stagnated because rather than serve the purpose of seeking the truth, it has been pressed into service to bolster social engineering goals.

I am not to sure that a mentally ill person has the same range of choice that a normal person has. Maybe the mentally ill have too many choices. Maybe that is why we used to have more institutions. I am sure that it will be a long time before these questions will be fully studied since the outcome could roast a few favorite sacred cows of Psychology.
-- Danny L. Newton
Cookeville, Tennessee

LEFT NATURE
Re: Ralph R. Reiland's Pinkos Get Nuttier:

Socialism and Communism are ideas so contrary to human nature, so divorced from common sense, and so brutal in implementation that they could flourish only in the academia of Utopia U. Apparently, education is self-terminating.
-- David Govett
Davis, California

Professor Reiland could also have written a few lines about the set by the founders of Marxist Communist in the way they treated their own families. I believe that Mrs. Marx and children could have served as definitive models for the very definition of "spousal abuse."
-- Rich Ptak

TASER CHASE
Re: Shawn Macomber's 50,000 Volts for Your Thoughts and Reader Mail's Current Affairs:

I found it of interest in both Shawn's article, "50,000 Volts for Your Thoughts," and the reader response, no discussion of the environment with which the Tasers are being used and possible alternatives.

First, Pinellas and Hillsborough county are "Retirement Central" and Dade has a high concentration of retirees as well. Such a population is exactly the opposite of the environment that a Taser should be deployed in. The manufacturer, Taser International, claims their product to be nonlethal and safe for even a person with a pacemaker or heart conditions. However there is some mounting evidence to the contrary -- click here, here, and here. These incidents are in populations in the 30-40 age group. The counties I refer above are in the 55-65 age group. A much higher risk population to having heart conditions that might be effected by the devices if discharged.

Second, of the incidents reported in Shawn's article, with but the one exception in the back of the cruiser there was an alternative to disabling the, I hate to use the term, assailant. It's called pepper spray. Many departments deploy and encourage it's use under the circumstances listed in Shawn's article. For the child and the chair bound individual two shots of spray at 5' would have been enough to defuse the situation. In the confines of a police cruiser such use is problematic.

Police departments should be encouraged to use Tasers where appropriate. It is better than a 9mm slug in someone. But they need to be treated just like a 9mm gun would. 1) Incident report needs to be filed. 2) The appropriate EMT should be dispatched to assess the target's condition. 3) The same training and procedures need to be followed as with any other firearm, up to and including the consequences of it's use both professionally and legally. 4) The officers need to be instructed that Tasers are deadly weapons regardless of claims, as they are in no position to assess the medical condition of their target at the time of use and have no means to determine its effects on the individual.

Just because a device is advertised as nonlethal does not make it so. If it was inappropriate to discharge the 9mm then it probably is not appropriate to discharge the Taser in a lot of those incidents either. The prime example of course is the Tasing of the 6 year old in the article.

Ironically for police, Tasers might make their life safer, but for the population as a whole a 9mm might be safer as police forces have placed great emphasis on restraint on discharge in the line of duty. Fact is I remember Florida Highway Patrol officers retiring from the force never having to unholster their weapon in the line of duty and were very proud of that fact. On reflection that should be the goal of every police officer both for themselves and those they must confront regardless of the tools.
-- John McGinnis
Arlington, Texas

AN EXTRA $3 BILLION
Re: David Sisk's letter ("Playing the Percentages") in Reader Mail's Current Affairs:

Regarding David Sisk's letter about Prop 71; as a Californian I was unaware that my state government was investing my money for me at 10% whenever they issued a bond. Why don't they just invest it at 20% so Prop 71 will be free. Theoretically he's correct, but practically speaking most people get mortgages because they don't have several hundred thousand dollars to invest in anything. Similarly our wonderful government doesn't have three billion to invest for us. We still have a multi-billion-dollar deficit every year. The fact is six not three billion dollars are coming out of our pockets, and if the state had three billion extra lying around I'm pretty sure our lovely legislature would find something to do with it besides ease our tax burden.
-- Brian Bonneau

OLD LIES NEVER DIE
Re: Tim Sullivan's letter (under "Mission Not Accomplished" in Reader Mail's Current Affairs:

In response to Tim Sullivan's letter, it seems that some lies will never die. General Shinseki was not "forced to retire early" for "daring to disagree" with Rumsfeld. Kerry told this particular lie (among many others) often in his campaign. Shinseki's "disagreement" (I presume Mr. Sullivan is referring to the call for hundreds of thousands of troops for Iraq) came long after the general had already announced his retirement. But for many, I know, the truth means little, and a lie gives more comfort. Such a pity.
-- David McCroary

Mr. Sullivan has apparently made the same sort of mistake that our (mostly) militarily illiterate MSM does. He complains that the Army Chief of Staff was made to retire early and complains, therefore, that the SecDef did not listen to "the field commanders." Please note that the Chief of Staff of any of our armed services is NOT a field commander. The field commander in this case would be the Central Command Commander, originally Tommy Franks, then John Abizaid.

And, for the record, the Chief of Staff that he refers to is the one that decided during a time of poor retention, low equipment readiness, repair parts unavailability and low morale that the solution was to take the Rangers' beret away from them and give it to everyone in the Army. I wish we had had a Rumsfeld around to run a cost-benefit analysis on that one...
-- Patrick R. Glass
LTC, USA (Retired)

THAT WAS NO WOMAN
Re: William Tucker's Hollywood's Twisted Psyche:

I agreed with Mr. Tucker's analysis of the movies, but think he should pay more attention to the movies he hates. The scene from Men In Black he described in "Hollywood's Twisted Psyche" wasn't about a woman giving birth to a space alien, but a space alien giving birth to a space alien. You see she only appeared to be human until the exertion of labor caused her disguise to slip. Get it? Otherwise Mr. Tucker is totally right.
-- Stanley Willis

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