The Cushiest Job You'll Ever Love?
Two days after reading James Bovard's investigative report on the Peace Corps ("JFK's Baby at 25: Alive and Bumbling," May), I received an alumni newsletter from my high school. It contained an article about one of my schoolmates who is now a member of the Peace Corps. The article disclosed some rather surprising facts regarding the conditions under which he lives and works: "[My former schoolmate] says he has a unique setup with a 6-room house, air conditioning, a pool and tennis court 2 kilometers away, while most of his friends live in huts!" He also extended an open invitation to any and all alumni who might wish to be party to his hospitality: "Anybody who comes over to visit," the article reported, "can stay at his place for three weeks free of charge (free food, drink and lodging)."
Lawrence E. Kahn
Evils of Pornography?
I want to congratulate you on your frank discussion of the difficult philosophical problems which arise in attempts to identify the evil of pornography ("Reagan's Smutstompers," April). It is a pity, however, that Martin Morse Wooster did not more effectively discipline his treatment, even though some of the points he made need wider recognition.
It is true that a campaign against "pornography" can result in a campaign against the free expression of ideas. To a "libertarian," however, the ultimate case against much that is published in Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler is that it is in appallingly bad taste. I recognize what I believe to be pornography and I loathe it in the same spirit that I loathe all other manifestations of what I regard simply as deplorably bad taste.
Hence for me, the case for the suppression of pornography must rest on the public's conviction that the publications to be forbidden have an evil social influence. A fruitful discussion of this topic demands, of course, the utmost tolerance. But the fact that many of the critics of pornography's consequences have not written dispassionately does not justify an attack on the government's proposal for efforts to "scientifically identify and define 'pornography' and its variable effects upon adults and juveniles." The attack which I deplore is on a request for a wholly dispassionate and frank examination of the problem raised.
University of Dallas
Does Meese Read Hustler?
Of all the government staff involved in the smutstomping campaign, wouldn't it be interesting to know how many watched a porn film twice? Or have a copy of Hustler in their bottom desk drawer? Or have watched X-rated films on their own VCRs? Anyway, if they spent less taxpayer money on research, I could afford to rent one more porn flick—assuming hard-core taxes were reduced accordingly. (P.S. Don't remind the porn commission about the Miss America Pageant!)
Anaheim Hills, CA
Spy Without Honor
Writer Craig M. Collins states ("The Spy Who Found Honor," June) that James Bond and Robert McCall of TV's The Equalizer "share a common enemy—evil." Yet one must wonder at this estimation, at least in the case of McCall. Examine the premise of the program. McCall helps people without asking compensation, and does so on the basis of the needs of the "underdog." That is bad enough; but a recent episode revealed even more disturbing character traits. The episode involved a conflict between a landlord and his tenants. The landlord was portrayed as a selfish money-grubber, unfortunately also a wife-beater and thug. The tenants were elderly, living on fixed incomes in rent-controlled housing. The landlord wanted the tenants off of his property in order to build luxury condominiums for "more profits" (the implication being negative, of course). The tenants would not leave. Denied the right to the use of his property, and unable to circumvent housing regulations, the landlord tried to force his tenants out by employing bully-boys and using other unsavory tactics, all on the fringes of legality. Enter McCall. Where the People's State failed, he succeeded. The landlord was sent to jail. Control of his capital fell to the compassionate wife, who proceeded to dump unrecoverable thousands into the still rent-controlled building. The tenants were satisfied. Social justice was done.
The Equalizer is aptly named, fighting as he is for social equality. I'm not certain what the evil is that he opposes. Collins's comparison suffers from a serious misconception. McCall is less a James Bond than an Ellsworth Toohey, the evil altruist of Ayn Rand's fiction, with spunk.
I second Craig M. Collins in his praise of The Equalizer and its hero, Robert McCall ("The Spy Who Found Honor," June), with two cavils: First, he overstretches his argument that the Sean Connery interpretation of James Bond is no more than a cold-hearted monomaniac. The Fleming novels certainly portrayed Bond as being capable of tenderness and vulnerability, and the Connery movies projected a latent sense of personal decency and physical exhilaration. As one whose sense of life was strongly influenced by the popularity of James Bond in the early 1960s, I remember only the intense vitality of the character, not an insensitivity to life.
Second, it is too bad that Collins doesn't recall the "other" spy hero of those years: Patrick McGoohan's masterful portrayal of British agent John Drake in the long-running BBC series Danger Man (brought to the United States for one season as Secret Agent). Never flashy or enamored of gunplay, Drake relied on guile, stealth, ingenuity, and daring to discharge his missions—many of which involved ethical dilemmas. Subsequently, McGoohan continued the Drake character in The Prisoner, surely the archetype of resigned-agent situations, in which a courageous individual maintains his moral integrity in the face of enormous pressure to conform and compromise. Drake's cry of defiance remains etched in my memory: "I am not a number—I am a free man!"
McCall, Bond, Drake…why do all these sterling characters have to be British?
Michael J. Dunn
How Big a Stick Must America Carry?
Bill Kauffman's editorial "Real Conservatives Don't Start Wars" (May) came at a propitious point, since REASON must have reached readers just as Ronald Reagan decided to bomb Libya. For that reason alone I wish the piece would have been less glib and facile and more analytic and argumentative. It is cute, of course, to go after George Will and his ilk, what with their pious posturings about anything they have earnest feelings about. But that does not solve the problem of just what should be US foreign policy and why.
Consider the Libyan affair. The United States has reasonably friendly relations with most European countries and this encourages a good deal of foreign travel by Americans. Now Libya chooses to threaten US men and women throughout Europe and has had a history of carrying out such threats—most recently, through its East German outpost, in West Berlin. The European governments are either not eager or lack the competence to fend off Libyan aggression! What should the government of the targeted people do? With the foreign policy of the late Sen. Robert Taft, the answer would be to recall all these citizens and forgo the benefits of all foreign affairs. By not adopting such isolationism, to what measures does the US government commit itself, if any?
There is also the matter Kauffman raises regarding the "crusade" against communism. Here, too, he does not handle the difficult problems but indulges in dickering about who is conservative, who is neoconservative, etc. But the fact is that the Soviet Union, as a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist state, is on record promising to eliminate the capitalist world in its capacity as the leader of the worldwide revolutionary movement toward communism. In this light, the campaign against communism could easily take on the defensivist stance that even Taft conservatives would have supported on the part of the US government. I would gladly hear arguments to the contrary, because I have no yearnings for militarism. But Mr. Kauffman has to do better than be flippant and clever to come to terms with the issues involved.
Tibor R. Machan
Senior Editor, REASON
Mr. Kauffman replies: Tibor Machan concentrates his pedantic fire on straw men, distorting my position (and Senator Taft's) in the process. I am neither a pacifist nor an autarkist. I simply believe that the globalist course the US government embarked upon in the mid-20th century is destructive of our liberties, subversive of our character, and is reducing the proudest, freest country in history to just another garrison state. The wise Old Right stalwart Felix Morley wrote at length about the incompatibility of republic and empire. Our postwar politicians have succumbed to the latter's siren song; the price we pay for their imperial arrogance is going to include incurring the wrath of the Qaddafis of the world. Tragically, American civilians and military installations will continue to be targeted by Arab nationalists and terrorists until we renounce empire and return our government to the limited duties the Founders so prudently prescribed. I trust this response is sufficiently unclever for Dr. Machan.
American Empire? Tell Me More
I was fascinated by Gerry Walsh's letter in the June issue, in which I learned for the first time that the United States has an empire entirely comparable and apparently equal to that of the USSR. I hope Mr. Walsh will be good enough to fill us in on some details.
I am wondering where our Gulag is located? I have asked some friends in Alaska if it is there, and they tell me that if it is they have not heard about it. Of course, this does not mean that the CIA is not operating one in secret in this, our closest approximation of Siberia. I am also curious as to the last time we sent tanks into West Germany or Japan to ensure that they were carrying out our orders. I would also like to know the strength of our divisions in Israel and in Egypt, and I am wondering how it is that we allow free elections in both those countries? If we do, it should be stopped at once, of course, because the Soviets have proven that one party is enough. In this connection, do you suppose that our elections are really only shams, described by a controlled media but not ever a reality, and that all decisions are made by a group of perhaps 10 appointed officials in Washington, who then choose a leader who is the president of the United States? And where are our psychiatric hospitals for those who do not agree with the administration? I cannot find any evidence of them, but I am sure Mr. Walsh could enlighten us if he would.
Making My Day, Once Again
The recent shift to emphasis on civil liberties in REASON has renewed my faith in it. I was beginning to worry REASON was turning into a clone of the New Right, with cover after cover devoted to anti-communist struggles in various Third World countries. What do I see now? Ideological bravery. A cover story on "Reagan's War on Porn" (April). Reports on the losing battle of drug enforcement. Editorials condemning Reagan's bloated military budget (you made my day, Bill Kauffman!).
How thrilling it is to read, in a distinguished magazine like REASON, educated, well-thought-out defenses of liberty. How sweet it is to agree with nearly every article; to realize, "Hey, I'm not alone here." There's hope for the America Thomas Jefferson envisioned, and you at REASON are "fighting the good fight." Right on!
Los Angeles, CA