Los Angeles

Dear Mr. Trillin: Regarding your poem “Richard Perle: Whose Fault Is He?” [Sept. 16], I had the good fortune to attend Third Street Grammar School, and Richard Perle was in my class. I saved a “slam book,” which was popular at the time, in which we wrote our thoughts of one another and joked about our feelings, the way kids do. Eleven classmates signed, including Richard, and I recently reviewed it. Richard was remembered as very smart–not a “nerd” or a “wimp.” Respected. I remember him as serious and polite in his Eisenhower jackets. I saved a poem he wrote for the school paper and still have the words he inscribed in my autograph book–none of which were silly or unkind, but thoughtful. Richard was not teased more than anyone else–if at all. In my recollection he was a very nice, bright young man. I still have the photograph of our graduation class, and Richard still bears a strong resemblance to that photo. He simply was no “sissy.”



New York City

You were not one of the fourth-grade girls who used to push Richard down the hill on Fuller Street, and you didn’t laugh once in sixth grade when Rocco Guntermann, from Mrs. Flynn’s class, referred to Richard as “Perlie Girl”? Fine. Whatever you say. If the United States invades Iraq without provocation, it won’t be your fault.




“Good guys winning”? Give me a break! Mark Hertsgaard is a good thinker and writer but flipping out over so-called efficiency in gas mileage is myopic [“California Green Light,” Aug. 19/26]. Giving a blue ribbon to more movement per gallon is a minimal, indeed negligible, response to maximum danger. Down with petrol is obvious, but to consider a seven-year lag–i.e., 2009 for a minimal solution–sounds like front-page Forbes, not The Nation. Consider that if we geared up for a “clean” new fleet at the rate of l5 million new cars a year, we’d be up to our elbows in seawater by the time we retired the present fleet and still be shooting petrol into the sky.

With 30 percent of the environmental damage done in the manufacturing of automobiles and who-knows-how-much ancillary damage in roads and sprawling development, the waters will be rising (further) over small islands in small nations and large coastlines in large nations. As every big-city dweller–and more and more small ones–knows, the way to cut petrol is to cut driving in favor of walking, biking, public transiting; to plan dense, residential, livable cities and shift the $58 billion a year from automobiles to alternatives.

That, of course, would demand national policy, cutting the umbilical cord to the car and other (pardon the expression) radical green policies, as well as the grassroots action that Hertsgaard and others advance, although they can’t quite hand back the keys of the car or hype more holistic policies to provide real solutions and a real green light.

Nation architecture critic


San Francisco

I think I discern Jane Holtz Kay’s objection: Cars are the problem, and anything less than abolishing them amounts to marginal progress at best. Having not owned a car myself for many years, I certainly agree that driving less–not to mention producing fewer cars, highways, suburbs and the rest of the auto’s environmental footprint–is an excellent, even necessary, idea. But while we work on persuading folks to drive less, it’s foolish not to recognize that Americans remain addicted to automobiles and will be driving millions of them for many years to come. (And not simply because they’re addicts. Not everyone lives in a city, Jane.) So doesn’t it make sense to make cars as efficient as possible? Reformist action doesn’t preclude radical action; we need plenty of both.

Equally important is the political psychology of all this. The California global warming bill shows the good guys can actually win–a point progressives sometimes forget in their angst over the often gloomy outlook. I say let’s celebrate our victories–it builds our confidence and momentum and so makes future victories all the more likely.



Santa Cruz, Calif.

Regarding Jordan Lite’s “Sex, Morality and AIDS” [Aug. 5/12], the United States is indeed out of step with the rest of the world and suffers a much higher rate of HIV infection than other Western nations. But, contrary to Lite’s contention, European nations did not reduce teen pregnancy and disease rates by “abstinence, monogamy and condom” promotions but by larger social policies of which these play only a small part. European social programs prevent the widespread poverty and family breakup common in the United States, where 6 in 10 new HIV infections (7 in 10 among women) in people under 25 are in African-Americans, and HIV prevalence among runaway and prostitute populations is thousands of times higher than among middle-class and affluent young people. In locales where US youth enjoy the low poverty rates common to Western Europe, teens also have low birth and negligible HIV rates. Further, most young HIV infectees, in the United States as in poorer nations, are infected by considerably older men (partners, customers or victimizers), not by peers–a problem worsened by the fact that US middle-agers, not teens, show the fastest-rising infection rate. Safe-sex practices are part of the solution, but it is discouraging to see its advocates advancing their cause by downplaying the far more crucial factors in HIV’s spread–economic injustice, denial of fundamental rights to women and youth, child poverty and abandonment and prostitution.



New York City

There is no question that social inequalities drive the AIDS epidemic. The comprehensive sex education promulgated in Europe in fact reflects those governments’ recognition that the very inequities Males details–particularly around gender, education and economics–make it impossible for everyone to make the same choices about their sexuality. That reality is ignored by US promotion of sex-education programs that assume that abstinence until marriage is the only acceptable way to prevent more HIV infections among the young. Clearly, HIV prevention must be integrated into broader health programs that acknowledge adolescent sexual activity and the myriad forms and situations in which it takes place–including homosexuality, substance abuse and by force.

Males’s assertion that middle-aged Americans are the fastest-growing population becoming infected with HIV is inaccurate. He may be confusing statistics about AIDS deaths–which in the United States are greatest among young and middle-aged adults–with new HIV infections. People 25 and younger are most at risk of contracting HIV, accounting for half the estimated 40,000 new infections in this country each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Thirty percent of new US infections among young people affect women; 75 percent of infections among these young women are transmitted heterosexually.

As Males rightly points out, the risk of HIV infection is magnified for those who are black, Hispanic, gay or unable to get public healthcare. These facts underscore the need for informative, comprehensive sex education in US schools, which most of us regard as the great equalizing setting.



Washington, DC

Amid all his speculation about meetings that might have taken place and things that might have been said in them prior to the coup attempt in Venezuela in April [“Our Gang in Venezuela?” Aug. 5/12], David Corn reports, factually, that the State Department’s Inspector General has been conducting a review of programs and activities in that country funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. That review has been completed, and readers might be interested in its conclusion: “Based on OIG’s review, NED, its core grantees, and discretionary grant recipients were carrying out programs in a manner consistent with NED grant policies and guidelines and were adhering to US laws and policies. NED and the core grantees have been working with groups in Venezuela since the early 1990’s to redemocratize and rebuild institutions. They believe that democratic ends can be achieved only through democratic means.”

National Endowment for Democracy


Washington, DC

The IG’s report also concluded, “It is clear that NED’s, [the Pentagon’s], and other US assistance programs provided training, institution building, and other support to organizations and individuals understood to be actively involved in the events of April 11-14,” meaning the coup. So NED, prior to the coup, worked with people and political parties that ended up participating in the extraconstitutional–nondemocratic–temporary ouster of strongman President Hugo Chavez. It further noted that NED’s “efforts to assist specific organizations…could be perceived as partisan” and that sometimes NED comes “close to the line.” The IG reported that, after Venezuela, NED was revising its guidelines. If there had been no problems there, why would it have to do so?



Putney, Vt.

I agree with The Nation‘s stance on the death penalty. A civilized society doesn’t execute its citizens. But in light of recent events, I’m coming to believe that certain crimes are so heinous, capital punishment may be the only answer. When the abusive manipulation of capital results in the ruin of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, that is, in the case of capital crimes–the gross mismanagement of capital–the perpetrators deserve capital punishments–decapitation. Guillotine a couple of these Enron, WorldCom executives on Fox or ABC. I bet we’d see some pretty significant “internal reforms” at the likes of Harken and Halliburton.