Take Them Back to Dear Old Blighty
I couldn't help but sigh "Right on!" and "No kidding!" at every sentiment in Michael C. Moynihan's "Take Them Back to Dear Old Blighty" (April). As an American who spent the last two and a half years living in Germany and traveling in other European countries, I was irritated to be stamped as culturally inferior to locals and ex-pats whom I met overseas. I repeatedly found myself in conversations with people extolling the superiority of life in Europe and the sophistication of the meanest German tough over the most educated American. Not wanting to compound the stereotype, I usually declined to involve myself in those discussions.

What is more fascinating to me is how readily American culture is embraced in Europe. Any argument over how awful and crude we are is immediately lost when the individual making those claims is stuffing himself with McDonald's on his way to the latest Hollywood bubblebum-boobfest while listening to three-chord rock 'n' roll on his iPod.
Guillermo Garcia
via the Internet

The New Age of Reason
I was heartened to read Ronald Bailey's article about the end of the Fourth Great Awakening, the period of religious fervor that has been infecting our political life for the last three decades ("The New Age of Reason," April).

But I have to take exception to one of Bailey's criticisms: "Smoking bans are proliferating, although the percentage of Americans who believe secondhand smoke is very harmful has not budged from around 55 percent since 1997." It's not a question of belief. Public policy needs to be implemented on the basis of data and evidence, not uninformed opinion.

There are many readily available sources on the deleterious effects of secondhand smoke, but let me quote just one, the 2006 U.S. surgeon general's report: "The scientific evidence is now indisputable: secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults." The report provides plenty of evidence to substantiate this claim.
Ian Dodd
Culver City, CA

In "The New Age of Reason," Ronald Bailey suggests that John Harvey Kellogg invented corn flakes because their blandness tended to reduce passions. As a student of the period I was aware that Kellogg, like many reformers of the era, campaigned against "self-abuse," but I had never heard that tied to the invention of corn flakes. The more typical history is associated with another of Kellogg's obsessions: chewing. (He coined the term fletcherize to honor his friend Horace Fletcher.) Kellogg's invention of wheat flakes came while he was looking for a way to make grains easier to digest for his patients who had difficulty chewing.

In an interesting case of someone being right for the wrong reason, it turns out that avoiding heavily spiced foods was a good idea: Before refrigeration and modern preservatives spice was often used to hide spoilage. Avoiding spicy foods made it easier to recognize the rancid taste.
James Foster
Beaverton, OR

Ronald Bailey replies: As far as secondhand smoke is concerned, I don't think I could say it any better than my colleague Jacob Sullum's response to the surgeon general's report, published on reason online: "There is no evidence that brief, transient exposure to secondhand smoke has any effect on your chance of developing heart disease or lung cancer. The studies that link secondhand smoke to these illnesses involve intense, long-term exposure, typically among people who have lived with smokers for decades."

He also wrote, "Whether smoking bans are a good idea is a question not of science but of values, of whether we want to live in a country where a majority forcibly imposes its preferences on everyone else or one where there is room for choice and diversity." In a tolerant, pluralistic society, you allow that choice and diversity to flourish by letting business owners set their own rules for who may smoke on their property.

Writer on the Storm
Bill Kauffman's otherwise enjoyable interview with Carl Oglesby ("Writer on the Storm," April) was deeply marred by Oglesby's blasé slander of cowboys. George W. Bush's "handlers," Oglesby said, "grasped that there is a basic collision between the neo-Union and the neo-Confederacy. The Civil War is not over; its issues continue to echo. Bush II emerges from that process. He is a Cowboy, as I use that term, and represents the movement of the Confederacy from the East to the West."

Drawing from seemingly nothing more than Hollywood preconceptions, Oglesby tied ranch workers to the Confederacy, George Bush, and other black holes of ill repute. Anyone who has earned a buck in the saddle is fully vested in the live-and-let-live philosophy, the very foundation of libertarian logic. Bush and other Connecticut rednecks are not.
Guy Smith
Alameda, CA

Whatever Happened to Tax Cuts?
David Weigel ("Whatever Happened to Tax Cuts?," March) quotes a spokesman for former presidential contender Mike Huckabee saying, "If you're a CEO making $20 million, your biggest concern is not marginal tax rates." The question that needs to be asked by Huckabee, the Club for Growth, and others is "why?"

The easy answer is the concept of "take-home pay." Without actually holding a check in your hand for your pay, and writing a check for your taxes, it is easy to miss the percentage you are paying. If you do not look at your pay stub closely, you become accustomed to what you are receiving "after taxes" instead of pre-tax. Out of sight, out of mind. People deserve to be aware of the amount of money that is being spent in Washington.

Yet another example of the corrosive effect of "take-home pay" is that taxpayers are excited to get a tax refund when they should be upset that they have given Washington a zero interest loan for up to a year. Similarly, the idea of employers "paying half" of some taxes is merely a trick to disguise your true tax rate. For anyone who cares about transparency in government, or anyone who cares about the size of government, ending the concept of "take-home pay" by eliminating withholding is an idea whose time has come.
Airot Parker
via the Internet

CORRECTION: "The Cult of the Presidency" (June) implied that the exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act enacted in late 2006, which made it easier to use the military to "restore public order and enforce the laws" after a Katrina-style disaster, were still in effect. In fact, they were repealed in January 2008.