Brain Chemistry

Ronald Bailey's "The Battle for Your Brain" (February) seemed more like a persuasive pill popping agenda than an article. Evidently, in the future, the avant-garde population will be popping pills for memory and intellectual enhancement. We can dispense with that old-fashioned humanity of self-will, self-awareness, self-discipline, and self-control in favor of drugs. That must delight the billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies. Did Bailey figure out the cost over one's life span?

Dorothy J. Caruso
Balboa Island, CA

In his otherwise excellent article, Ronald Bailey glosses over one of the most important real-world concerns of neuroethics: the danger that neurological enhancements will become difficult to refuse. Bailey attempts to refute this with two arguments: 1) improved brainpower won't necessarily lead to success, and 2) higher education also increases brainpower, and nobody's limiting access to that.

The first argument is clearly irrelevant. Whatever drive, ambition, or other personality characteristics one has, increased brainpower is almost certain to increase one's chances of success in any but the most mindless pursuits. In my opinion, merely this increased chance will lead to huge demand for brain-enhancing drugs.

The second argument misses the point that popping a pill will be far, far easier than pursuing an advanced degree. Let's say a recent high school graduate has two options that will increase brainpower equally: pop a pill once a day, or earn a four-year college degree. Which will he choose?

There is a clear parallel that helps illustrate my points: anabolic steroids. Drawing a parallel to Bailey's first argument, millions of student athletes have used steroids to increase strength, despite the fact that they are illegal and dangerous. Only a tiny fraction of them will reach the professional ranks, much less become superstars. That does not stop them, however, from responding to competitive pressure on their own, smaller battlefields.

To draw a parallel to Bailey's second argument, I have spent 20 years building a top-notch physique without using steroids. (I am a fitness trainer and bodybuilder.) A complete beginner could surpass me in less than six months by using steroids. If they were legal, cheap, and had no side effects, which option would be more rational?

The debate becomes interesting if one assumes that neurological drugs will have dangerous side effects (as virtually all drugs do). If so, the government may very well have an interest in controlling these drugs, as with anabolic steroids. Of course, one could argue that dangerous drugs should be legal, but that an argument different from Bailey's.

Peter Bell
Colorado Springs, CO

Wrecks and Renewal

In "Wrecking Property Rights" (February), Sam Staley does a nice job in showing the dangers of eminent domain when government overreaches. But the examples he gives pale in comparison to the deliberate and wholesale destruction of ethnic neighborhoods in major cities by federal planners in the period after World War II, under the guise of "urban renewal."

This sordid chapter of American history isn't taught in schools. But it is fully articulated in The Slaughter of the Cities: Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing, by E. Michael Jones. Focusing on four cities -- Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago -- Jones proves that the destruction of ethnic neighborhoods was not a case of good intentions gone bad but rather was the intent of the undertaking from the very start.

This book is not conspiracy theory run amok but documented research of the highest order. The abuse of government trust here should be of great concern to all libertarians. For me, the interest is more personal. I always wondered what destroyed my 1950-'60s Irish-Italian neighborhood outside of Newark, New Jersey. Now I know.

Peter Kenny Skurkiss
Chester Township, NJ

Sam Staley's piece is an interesting and fair one. As a practicing planner, I'm going to seek out his book Smarter Growth. I think there is one irony worth mentioning: The rise in private-to-private takings may be an unintended consequence of the thinking that brought us "regulatory takings," that mysterious beast that the Rehnquist Supreme Court cooked up in the 1980s.

For 1,000 years, "takings" referred to the government's coming to be the owner of a piece of property. But with the decision handed down in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council in 1992, the Court blurred the line between ownership of land and the opportunity to realize its economic value. In effect, the ruling said physical possession and right of occupation, the traditional meaning of ownership, have been subsumed to economic interest in a piece of land. Obviously, this was not the Court's intent, but a pretty good case can be made that it has been the outcome. This thought process has contributed to the spate of unnecessary, unwise takings by reducing the gravity given to the harm of having one's home taken; since it's no longer the physical, human connection which defines ownership but the economic relationship, and since the property owners are getting compensated at market value, what's the real harm? By distorting the meaning of ownership and taking, the regulatory-takings crowd has made it easier to kick people off their land.

Joseph Boyle
Lowell, MA

I read with great interest Sam Staley's article on eminent domain. I am fighting a convention center project in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The state didn't give local officials the right of eminent domain, so what did they do? They found a friendly economic development group to threaten condemnation and shut down a profitable 100-year-old-plus business.

The city economic development authority called the police when I showed up to videotape their meeting. (The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act explicitly permits such filming.) When the police refused to arrest me -- I called two lawyers and threatened a civil rights suit -- they canceled their meeting rather than have me videotape it.

Ron Harper Jr.
Stevens, PA

Bomb Throwers

In his review of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed ("Learning to Love the Bomb," February), Steve Chapman refers to author Scott D. Sagan's remarks on the "unreliability" of nuclear weapons personnel. He cites the fact that U.S. armed forces screen out 5 percent of their nuclear weapons personnel annually on this account and points out that Islamic nations have no such screening procedure. The implication is that such nations may be vulnerable to personnel releasing nuclear weapons on their own initiative.

But it's a misconception that the "unreliability" discussed by Sagan regards concern over personnel releasing nuclear weapons unauthorized. In point of fact, nuclear control regimes in place prevent this sort of behavior by requiring explicit physical confirmation from national authorities. The prospect of "unreliability" that prompts U.S. screening actually pertains to the potential failure of personnel to execute nuclear release orders; it is necessary to ensure that our personnel are mentally and morally capable of discharging their duty when ordered.

This, of course, says nothing about the nature and extent of the nuclear control regimes prevailing in Pakistan or any other Islamic nation. But the fact that 5 percent of U.S. nuclear personnel are annually judged as being unlikely to release nuclear weapons when ordered gives us no insight into whether Islamic nuclear personnel would be prone to release weapons without orders.

Michael J. Dunn
Auburn, WA

Great Stone Faces

Charles Paul Freund ("Big Schlock Candy Mountain," February) did not mention Mount Rushmore's most significant symbolic feature. If you visit in the morning, when the sun shines on Washington's face, you can see a tear glisten on his cheek, as he gazes toward the city that bears his name.

John DeJager
Milford, OH