"Dominate. Intimidate. Control."
While the litany of horribles James Bovard cites concerning the Transportation Security Administration's ineptitude and high-handedness ("'Dominate. Intimidate. Control.,'" February) is certainly enraging, his alternative -- putting airlines and airports in the business of providing security and punishing them with crippling lawsuits if they fail to deliver it -- seems unworkable and unfair.
No amount of "better" intelligence from the feds will enable the private air travel system to thwart every terrorist attack. Yet if Bovard's solution were adopted, every such attack would result in "devastating" lawsuits against air carriers and airports, possibly driving them to financial ruin. Billions of dollars in settlements might be at stake for years, while litigants argued over whether the feds gave timely information or not, or whether some other party (how many airlines and airports did the 9/11 hijackers use again?) bore more culpability.
The affected defendants would be under a financial cloud that would prevent them from getting private capital needed to fund expansion or retire old equipment. The result would be a degraded air transportation system that would put a huge dent in economic prosperity. Only trial lawyers could love such an outcome.
And what's this about the need for "amending U.S. foreign policy to reduce the number of foreigners willing to kill themselves to slaughter Americans"? Exactly which policies need to be amended to placate and appease Osama bin Laden? Support for Israel, the only democratic state in the Mideast? We've already withdrawn our troops from Saudi soil, and Al Qaeda's leaders still talk openly of "chasing us" all over the globe.
I think Norman Mineta is an incompetent horse's ass; he should be fired and the TSA monster defanged. But please, let's not engage in the idiocy of blaming the U.S. for global terrorism or suggest that private airlines and airports should bear the brunt of providing absolutely perfect security, with bankruptcy as the penalty for failure.
John E. Link
A Week of Eating Dangerously
Neil Steinberg's essay on eating any and all kinds of meat ("A Week of Eating Dangerously," February) reminds me of a child who steals a piece of candy from the drugstore just because his mother told him it was wrong. Stuffing himself with foie gras, veal, and steak simply because he can proves only that Steinberg chooses not to examine the treatment of farmed animals or the consequences of a meat-based diet for the planet and his own health.
He may not be troubled by what happens to animals: castration and dehorning without any relief from the agony; confinement in cages or cement stalls without fresh air, sunshine, or even space to turn; bloody slaughter by assembly line. But fortunately, many people are willing to find out what happens to chickens, pigs, cattle, turkeys, fish, and other animals before their body parts wind up on a plate. I hope your readers will call 1-888-VEG-FOOD or visit GoVeg.com for the facts and a free Vegetarian Starter Kit.
Director of Vegan Campaigns, PETA
Neil Steinberg repeats an argument frequently heard in the debate over the humane treatment of animals: that "nearly every cow alive owes its existence to either the meat or the dairy industry, and that should the fad of vegetarianism ever really affect those businesses, animal lives would be lost, not gained." This notion has a superficial plausibility, but it's actually mistaken on two counts.
The world's highest concentration of cattle are to be found not in beef-loving North America, but in India, where Hindus don't eat cows but venerate them. Clearly there's more than one way to ensure high cattle populations.
But the deeper problem is Steinberg's dubious assumption that a concern for the ethical status of animals entails an obligation to ensure as many animals are born as possible. After all, human beings make the strongest ethical claims on us, but no one takes that to mean we are obliged to ensure the highest possible number of people. If we did, consider all the things that would be called into question, from celibate priests and nuns to access to birth control. We don't assume that because killing existing people is impermissible, creating new ones is mandatory.
Steinberg accuses animal advocates of a "sneering disregard for humanity" and "self-righteous delusion." Scrape away the bald ad hominems and the unpersuasive arguments, and there isn't much left. If Steinberg's article is any indication of the other side, it's no wonder the animal ethics movement is gaining such ground.
I was disappointed that Reason, the magazine celebrating the noble concepts of "free minds and free markets," would publish an article celebrating exploitation, misrepresenting animal rights supporters, and making light of the suffering of other beings.
Neil Steinberg brushes aside the suffering of tens of billions of animals killed annually on factory farms in an attempt to classify animal rights activists as nuts who receive a big grin from "Mother Earth" every time they eat a soy burger. The truth is that ethical vegans choose not to consume animal products because they do not want to support actions that cause suffering. They put aside some minor pleasures to make the world a more compassionate place. What part of that suggests a "disdain for people"?
Steinberg thinks animals should be treated decently and eaten guiltlessly, and then deludes himself into thinking that the animals aren't really suffering at all. But the way animals are treated on factory farms is anything but decent -- it's downright sickening.
Veal calves are separated from their mothers only days after birth and chained in tiny, dark crates. When they are finally slaughtered at about 16 weeks old, they are often too sick or crippled to walk. This is a very far cry from life in a field.
Freedom-loving individuals should try to spread liberty as far and as wide as possible. To deny certain sentient beings liberty while granting it to others is narrow-minded and hypocritical. Animal rights and libertarianism are harmonious causes. Libertarianism and exploitation are not.
State College, PA
Injustice by Default
Congratulations on Matt Welch's article "Injustice by Default" (February). Welch's article was well-written but missed a larger point: What business does government have in the alimony and support collection business? Should government be administering domestic relations at all? We suggest it was a better world for everybody (except feminists) when churches administered domestic relations, when women weren't encouraged by discriminatory government policies to evict husbands regardless of fault or to breed children without husbands.
Without government involvement, more fathers -- married and unmarried -- would have custody or at least liberal visitation, practically eliminating the need for welfare, government involvement, and all those bureaucrats. Arguably, children would be better off both economically and socially. And we welcome the argument.
President, Men's Defense Association
Forest Lake, MN
Matt Welch fails to mention the greatest outrage of all: It is hypocritical of the government to guarantee a woman's right to an abortion while forcing a man to pay child support against his will. As Karen DeCrow, former president of the National Organization for Women, said, "If women have the right to choose if they become parents, men have that right, too."
Paternity suits should be abolished. Every argument in favor of them is a mirror image of an argument against legalized abortion. Compare: "If men don't want to support their offspring, they should use condoms" with "If women can use the pill, why do they need a right to an abortion?" And when so-called deadbeat dads are labeled irresponsible, it mirrors the anti-abortionists' stereotype of women who want abortions as irresponsible sluts.
In God's Country
Tim Cavanaugh's review of the new Madalyn Murray O'Hair biography ("In God's Country," February) was interesting, if not especially perceptive. I am interested, however, in his rather strong and gratuitous characterization of Martin Luther as "a churlish priest and an anti-Semite even by the standards of his day." I wonder what basis he has for this statement: Is it his own research into Luther, or his reliance on questionable secondary and tertiary sources?
I suspect Cavanaugh was exposed to materials demonizing the man during his formative years in Catholic school. But a review of some of Luther's writings will reveal him as a highly principled lawyer and professor of theology as well as a loving pastor, friend, and parent -- certainly less churlish and anti-Semitic than was typical of the Roman Church of his day.
Richard G. Lehrer
Tim Cavanaugh replies: Much as I'd like to blame all my adult failings on a lousy parochial education, the quality of religious instruction at Blessed Sacrament School was in fact so poor that we learned little even about Catholic doctrine, let alone the beliefs of Protestant schismatics. I was well out of grammar school before I realized that when people referred to "Martin Luther" they weren't using a familiar name for Martin Luther King. Luther's letter "On the Jews and Their Lies," I think, is a pretty damning document. It's certainly possible that many or most Christians at the time shared Luther's anti-Jewish sentiments, but few or none were as prolific -- and prescriptive -- in making their feelings known.
Every Man a Demiurge
Jesse Walker's "Every Man a Demiurge" (February) traces the rise and demise of an entertainment genre depicting reality as an illusion or simulation. A similar genre also had a smaller rise and fall during that time: the idea that our universe is but one of many in a multiverse, in which alternate universes are identical to ours up to a certain point but then diverge. Such alternate histories have been around for a while, such as in the collections edited by Greg Benford. In the '90s on television there was Sliders, with worlds in which the dinosaurs lived into modern times, the American Revolution never took place, or population control was enforced through soft drinks containing birth control chemicals and lotteries for killing off people.
On the movie screen there was Sliding Doors, where in one universe the protagonist just misses a subway train, while in another she just barely catches it. In the latter she arrives home to find her mate in bed with another woman; in the former the other woman leaves before her arrival, leading to very different consequences.
Sliders, being a series, exhibited the same decay Walker notes in the "illusion" genre. Later episodes focused on fighting the evil Kromaggs in chases across the universes, which themselves no longer had any remarkable distinguishing features, except that sorcery seemed to work in some of them. Such seems to be the inevitable down slope of popular series.
CORRECTION: In "Injustice By Default" (February), Raegan Phillips was misidentified as Raegan "Kelly," and the article incorrectly stated that Taron James frequently flies to Sacramento, when in fact he drives.