Letters to the Editor

Readers debate Paglia on Kosovo; electric vehicles aren't a panacea; are children inherently evil?

Published April 21, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

The other woman

Correction: New Yorker columnist and former Spy editor Kurt Andersen did
not know of Sidney Blumenthal's alleged involvement in the Bush affair
story, as erroneously stated in an article
posted by Salon News last September. The inaccuracy was introduced by Salon
editors, who apologize to Mr. Andersen and the reporter for the error. A
correction has been made.

Our Kosovo idiocy

Paglia makes an odd isolationist, but I suppose she's at least

Yes, it is a shame that the money we're spending on the
Yugoslav war isn't going to be spent on a different crisis; it would be
splendid if we could spend money twice, because then we'd never have
anything to want for. And yes, casting ethnic Albanians as the
oppressed victims is the latest application of a time-honored tactic that
always clouds the issue. And it sure is a damn shame that the same old
sexist lines are being dragged out again.

However, how the hell those complaints add up to "every bomb or missile that
falls is a gross waste of money" is beyond me. It would be a disgrace of
Rwandan proportions to stand by and allow the Serbian government to treat
the people of Kosovo as less than human. The time passed long ago when we
could justify letting one neighbor brutalize another. Yes, there are other
crises, yes, it costs too much money and, yes, there are those who will
render it in black and white. Still, there is no justification for
inaction. Someday perhaps someone will be taken to task for the disasters
they let happen in Africa during this decade. But thank heavens we won't have to worry about the same thing this year.

-- Larry Edelstein

San Francisco

Paglia wrote, "What galls me about our undeclared war on Yugoslavia is that the other
members of NATO are not footing their fair share of the bill and that American
tax dollars are being thrown down a sewer."

Balkan wars have always been a mess, and most
European governments know better than to get involved in them; there are
no simple solutions, like the ones American minds are so fond of. As the raids were most wanted by the U.S. government (Europe's voice in this is
very feeble), I think it is only fair that America foots the greater part of
the bill. But when the war is over, there will be a huge humanitarian bill to foot.
Bombs will probably succeed in starving the Serbian population, but not in
removing Milosevic. This humanitarian bill will be footed by Europe, not
America: Refugees will flock to Italian shores and German cities, not to
Florida shores and Californian cities.

What should be America's fair share of this bill?

-- Luca Logi

Florence, Italy

Not only are we ill-prepared to step into a
conflict between cultures that we know nothing about, but we are spreading ourselves even thinner in the role as global cop and enforcer of
freedom. Supposedly we are depleting the stockpile of missiles and war ammo, and
providing the ideal opportunity for the Pentagon and their hawkish
supporters to demand more dollars for more weapons. But worst of all
is the statement that qualified military personnel are the most depleted
resource. The idea that we lack troops sounds a familiar tone that I have
not heard since receiving my Selective Service notice and draft lottery
number during the summer of '69. The thought of our sons and daughters,
the children of the Vietnam-era generation, fighting undeclared wars on
foreign soil is more than I can bear.

-- Steve Sloan

Paglia recently responded to a reader who was "frustrated as I am by the
grouping together of women and children." My own response to statements like "In Kosovo, many
unarmed people are being massacred, including women and children" is dismay
that anyone might think sex or age (or race) matters when a person is
brutalized. We see this same thinking in the various "hate crimes" laws
that are so popular in the U.S. If the men in Jasper, Texas, had dragged a
white man behind their pickup, would they be any less evil?

-- Robert Huffman

The bad seed

What a waste of poorly written space. Children grow up every day in worse circumstances than the subject of this sentimental delusional article, and don't commit homicide.

Yes, some people are just "born bad." Most of us, growing up, do not pluck wings from insects nor set cats on fire nor choke or bludgeon our peers to death. Cue the violins as Kephart overwrites her excuse for this child's behavior. Perhaps Kephart would care to regale us with heart-tugging analyses of the childhoods of Hitler or Stalin.

What claptrap.

-- Robert Glass

Beth Kephart is understandably critical in her commentary on "Cries Unheard:
The Story of Mary Bell" and its author, Gitta Sereny. She attacks Sereny's linear argument that evil acts by children are triggered only by the abuses of their caretakers, believing the perpetrator must be held responsible.

Unfortunately, Kephart has fallen into the same trap as Sereny. By using Sereny's model of childhood development to debunk her
arguments, Kephart can only show us the contradictions of how we process our
history. If you ask a 41-year-old person about any event 30 years ago, you
will get an answer that will be a far cry from the 11-year-old mind of the
original participant.

An 11-year-old has many undisciplined voices roaming within her. What she acts upon is
certainly influenced by her environment. But she is a lifetime away from a
41-year-old mother and the voices roaming within her.

-- Richard Young

It makes me uneasy to read again the "politically correct" line that to look
for reasons for bad behavior is to relieve the guilty of responsibility. All
research into human behavior is now considered to be the work of bleeding
hearts who want to "excuse" bad behavior, while "wise ones" know and have
known throughout the ages that these creatures are born evil; the devil made
them do it. Gee whiz, folks, I foolishly believed for years that I was living in the 20th century.

-- Marylou Campbell

Electric cars vs. suburban assault vehicles

Auto manufacturers can do all they want to build "clean" motor vehicles, but
the effort means nothing since the "need" to drive is the problem. Cars are
inherently environmentally unfriendly. More roads get built, and businesses and
residences follow. Farmland disappears to accommodate this onslaught. Power
lines and sewer lines have to be extended to make life in the "country"
bearable. All this made possible thanks to cars, electric or otherwise.
What's worse, owning an electric car causes one to feel environmentally
superior, that the owner is doing something important for the environment by
owning one.

This is not environmentally friendly; it is environmental suicide.

-- Adam Young

Madison, Wis.

While your article raises some interesting points
about the seamy underbelly of the auto industry's
previous attempts to derail environmental legislation,
I feel that placing the blame on Detroit for the
inevitable death of California's electric mandate is
unfair for one reason: Electric cars are certainly
not ready for "prime time" and they create nearly as
many environmental problems as they solve.

So called "zero emission" electric cars are not all
they're made out to be by the "green" lobby. As long
as electric cars are charged by polluting coal-fired
power plants (where most electricity is generated in
the United States), electric cars merely shift their pollution
elsewhere. When one takes into consideration the
dozens of pounds of highly toxic lead, cadmium,
nickel or lithium compounds in each car's battery, it
is clear that electric vehicles are far from a panacea.

As the path of reason lies somewhere between P.J.
O'Rourke's "pave the rain forests" mentality and his
so-called "eco-weenie" friends in the environmental
lobby, it is clear that those sounding the death knell
for gasoline are possibly a decade or more premature.
After all, with Honda's production of a
gasoline-powered car that meets Zero-Level Emissions
Vehicle status, gasoline is potentially the
cleanest fuel available today.

I would be more than happy to say goodbye to gasoline
when a truly clean fuel-cell powered car, which uses
a renewable clean source of hydrogen fuel such
as methanol, can be produced for even $10,000 above the
average selling price of today's cars. But one glance
at the $100,000-plus sticker on Mercedes Benz's fuel cell
NECAR (and the lack of a suitable fuel production
infrastructure) makes it clear that we've got a while
to go before that day comes.

-- Shawn London

Online tax filing: Why bother?


Quistgaard might have better luck with her electronic filing if she
tried filing more than two days before the deadline. Was she expecting
anything but "unusually heavy demand" at 8 p.m. on April 13?

Her criticisms might be better received if phrased in terms of "the
problems with e-filing" than "I was unhappy with the experience." I
have little sympathy for those who complain about slow downloads of IRS
forms or lines at the post office this week. All I've really learned
from her article is that it's more inconvenient to file late over the
Net than to file late on paper.

-- Amber Baum

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