Inside Story

I am an inmate at the Maine State Prison and was so at the time of the "lockdown" ("Making Good[s] behind Bars," Mar.). I want you to see what I built and sent out incomplete before the lockdown struck. (A snapshot of a hand-crafted, full-size wooden motorcycle was included with this letter. —Ed.) I hadn't a chance to totally read your magazine story, but just think, I've won a blue ribbon and some other awards at a local museum with this past-time.

Kevin Paul Fraser
Thomaston, ME

Robbery Is Robbery

IRS Commissioner Egger should research a little further to find the status of tax protesters. (See "Stop This Stealing!" Apr.) It started here in 1770 over a threepence tax on tea. The phrase "taxation is theft" really has official sanction from the High Court: "To lay with one hand the power of government on the property of the citizen, and with the other to bestow it on favored individuals…is none the less robbery because it was done under the forms of law and is called taxation" (Miller 20 Wall 655, 663, 664 [1874]).

Ralph J. Fury
Denver, CO

Offer Poland Liberty

Allow me to offer a dramatic solution to the Polish problem: Take a clue from our own Declaration of Independence and tender an offer to the people of Poland to become citizens of the United States with Poland entering the Union as the 51st state.

Just to refresh your memory, let me quote from Mr. Jefferson's masterpiece: "That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government." For many years now we have welcomed to our shores immigrants and refugees from all over the world. Obviously, we cannot accept the world's population into our portion of North America. We do, however, have the potential to assist a people in instituting a new government.

If a government overwhelmingly betrays its people by widespread repression, terrorism, mass arrests, injuries and deaths, that government has in the eyes of civilized man lost the right to govern. In short, such a government should be terminated. How can this be accomplished other than by force of arms? Let this United States take the philosophical initiative. Let us through appropriate legislation tender to the Polish people the offer to change their allegiance to the United States. The decision would be made by secret balloting, an election that the United Nations would be asked to supervise.

Think for a moment how electrifying would be the effect of even the first proposal in Congress for such a Tender of Union. The Polish (and the Russian) government would be furious and probably flabbergasted. But whatever they said and whatever they did short of putting the issue to the UN-supervised vote would simply give them more bad press.

Long before the election, the soldiers and civil servants of Poland would be assured that they too would be welcomed as citizens of the New Poland. Only the organization of the government is to change. New officers are to be elected, but old officers are not to be persecuted.

How would other dictatorships of the world react, knowing that if their people become abused enough, they too might make a plea to be taken into the Union? Would the United Nations have the moral courage to preside over such an election, which would in effect sentence a criminal member-nation to termination? Whatever the outcome, the world would never be the same. A turning point in the evolution of the planet Earth would have been reached.

In those cases of chronic, severe, population-wide violation of basic human rights we have the opportunity, the right, the duty, to bring into the Union a tired, hungry, and huddled mass of humanity and, by means of nothing more substantial than a constitution, regenerate them into a fine and proud state whose people will have the opportunity to pursue their own happiness.

Laurens N. Garlington
San Francisco, CA

The Mourning Of Miss Rand

Please tell me Ayn Rand isn't really dead. She just went away to Galt's Gulch, right?

Eydie Carter
Los Angeles, CA

We the living…remember her, and we salute a spectacular life that passed out of our reach on March 6, 1982. For her celebrated accomplishments, and in spite of her obvious faults, Ayn Rand meant many more things to us than we can recount to our children and colleagues. Hers was a romantic and tragic journey, from the political wasteland of Russia to a permanent place in our hearts and minds. We owe so much, who seldom can find the heroic in our fellow man. She gave what she had to give, and we pay gladly for the loss we deeply feel.

Michael G. Roberts and
Deborah Schneider
Walnut Creek, CA

The weeks before Ayn Rand's death had been a difficult time for me. I had been trying to get the Oregon news media to pay some attention to my investigatory piece, "Stormy Weatherization" (REASON, Feb.). With few exceptions, I had encountered nothing but people who regarded me with suspicious stares, averted eyes, guilty evasions, and irrelevant questions about my politics.…Still, I went on, day after day, past all the stony expressions and snide snickers of my media colleagues. I kept handing out press releases and kept asking journalists to help me tell my story.

I did it partly because of Ayn Rand. I kept thinking of an article she once wrote called "Don't Let It Go." In that piece, Rand spoke of a "sense of life" that she attributed to Americans. She argued that most Americans have an unusual spirit that supersedes political ideology and makes them unwilling to accept authority, unwilling to defer personal responsibility, and unwilling to believe that life ought not to be at least intelligible if not happy. I didn't expect Oregon journalists to agree with my politics. But I kept looking for something like the "sense of life" that Ayn Rand had described. By that I mean I wanted and hoped to find journalists to whom facts mattered, to whom ethics mattered, and to whom reason mattered. Those things mattered to my "sense of life" and I didn't want to let them go.

In the midst of this, I lost Ayn Rand. I must describe her death as a personal loss, even though I never met her in person. And I know that there are many readers of this magazine who feel exactly the same. It is the sense of having lost an irreplaceable comrade-in-arms who fought valiantly—not on any physical battlefield, but on this culture's stark and lonely battlefield for the human mind. If you felt like me, you felt grief-stricken whenever you thought of the awful prospect of having to face that battlefield without Ayn Rand.

But don't let her go. Don't let Ayn Rand go. Hold on to her sense of life through whatever future struggles you face in whatever arena of life. And when things are most difficult, think of this: how empty our lives might have been without her.

Gaines Smith
Portland, OR

Selenium Salvo

In a recent letter (Mar.) I expressed concern that certain nutritional claims made by Pearson and Shaw in Health & Welfare are not supported by sufficient scientific research. Specifically, I referred to the statement made in Health & Welfare (Nov. 1981): "researchers estimate that a daily intake of 250 micrograms of selenium would decrease the incidence of heart disease and cancer by 70 percent." In my original communication, I stated that no human deficiency diseases have yet been established or causally attributed to a lack of Se in the diet. The word human, however, was editorially deleted from my letter without my permission or knowledge, thus making it appear that I was unfamiliar with animal studies on dietary selenium. My statements, however, are based (contrary to those of P&S) on a thorough review of all the available data on the role of Se in animal and human nutrition.

The studies cited by P&S as proof for the above statement (Chen, 1981; Greeder and Milner, 1980; Schrauzer, 1974) are interesting and suggestive, but nevertheless provide only preliminary evidence which must be weighed and considered in light of all published studies on dietary selenium. For example, P&S fail to consider the numerous studies showing the possible carcinogenic potential of selenium (Nelson, 1943; Schrauzer, 1976; Harr, 1976; Schroeder, 1970; Underwood, 1977; Shapiro, 1976). In addition, they make no mention of the well-established toxicity potential of selenium (toxicity syndromes of selenium were known to occur in range animals grazing on soil high in Se content long before deficiency diseases were discovered). Further, P&S do not bother to report that a high incidence of dental caries has been observed in children living in areas high in soil Se (Underwood, 1977; Shapiro, 1976; Hadjimarkos, 1961).

As with all trace elements in nutrition, there is often a fine line between intake levels necessary for optimal health and intake levels which will produce toxicity symptoms. Elements such as selenium have reasonably narrow dose-response relationships, so that 90 to 200 micrograms daily may be excellent, but 300 to 500 micrograms may be toxic. As pointed out by Smith and Fitzgerald (1978): "it is difficult to arrive at recommendations for adequate and safe intake levels of trace elements such as selenium in individual nutrition, because of variations in digestion, absorption, distribution, excretion, pharmacodynamics and the presence or absence of other dietary constituents." Furthermore, in contrast to Chen's study, several other investigators have observed no significant correlation between low selenium intake, low Se blood levels in New Zealand residents, and the incidence of cancer, heart disease, liver, or white muscle disease (Griffith and Roberts, 1974; Thompson and Robinson, 1980; Robinson, 1976; Watkinson, 1977).

Greeder and Milner (Science, Aug. 15, 1980) indeed showed that Se was efficacious in treating mice with ascites tumors. It should be noted, however, that these researchers used pharmacologic doses of Se equivalent to greater than 100 times that known to produce toxicity in humans. The point here is that utilizing pharmacologically high dosages of Se to treat established tumors in rodents, as in Greeder and Milner's study, does not imply that a nutritional Se deficiency will cause cancer or that the recommended daily allowance (200 micrograms) will prevent or decrease the incidence of cancer. Such factors must be considered when interpreting experimental data.…Thus, had P&S read all of the literature that a Medlar search would have provided, or even a few advanced texts on human nutrition, they would know that there is not enough evidence to substantiate the above claim for Se in preventing the two leading causes of death.

Pearson & Shaw's primary error is that they ignore an established scientific concept highly important when applying nutritional knowledge, particularly true with trace elements: it is unwise and imprudent to grasp some facet of preliminary data, such as the possibility of selenium protection against cancer, as justification for irresponsible health claims. With further clinical, experimental, and epidemiological research, Se may prove to be beneficial in the prevention and/or treatment of cancer or some other pathology, but clearly much more research is needed before such claims can be made. Pearson and Shaw's misrepresentation of scientific data is a perfect example of how "a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing."

Edward V. Avakian, Ph.D.
Santa Barbara, CA

The editors reply: As we explained to Mr. Avakian, we do not edit words out of the middle of sentences of letters to the editor. This was an admittedly unfortunate typographical and proofreading error. We are sorry that he has seen fit nevertheless to cancel his subscription to REASON. For readers who send a self-addressed stamped envelope, we will be happy to provide his list of references, in addition to those mentioned above, on the role of dietary selenium in human health and disease.

Nutrition Dark Ages

The recent letter by Dr. Avakian regarding selenium was shocking—not so much because its nutritionist author was ignorant of human selenium-deficiency diseases (Keshan Disease, Kashin-Beck Disease) or of the numerous studies demonstrating anticarcinogenic effects of high intakes of selenium—but because of the author's evident assumption that an absence of symptomatic deficiency implies that increased doses of a nutrient will produce no physiological effects. This is the sort of lame logic which keeps nutrition in its "four-basic-food-groups" dark ages, when in fact it should be the most dynamic force in preventive medicine.

Mark F. McCarty
La Jolla, CA