Web Letters | The Nation


Reclaim School Reform

After more than twenty years of privatization and high-stakes standardized tests, there is no evidence that the so-called “reform” agenda has benefitted students—and plenty of evidence of damage to public schools, students, communities and educators. But there is so much money to be made by privatizing schools, operating for-profit charters and selling tests and test-prep materials, we know the billionaires will keep on peddling the same nostrums.

The so-called reformers claim to be civil rights activists. But they are conspicuously absent in the struggles for voting rights, for LGBT youth and for immigrants, because as soon as they admit that conditions outside of the classroom affect students’ success in school, their whole attempt to blame teachers and other school workers is exposed as a gigantic fraud.

Unions remain today, as they have been for over fifty years, the strongest force for justice and the greatest advocate for educational quality.

School reform cannot be done to educators or for educators, only by educators and with educators. Anything less will result in the same old same old.

George Sheridan

Garden Valley, CA

Dec 9 2013 - 6:33pm

Without Respite

In her article about Primo Levi, which is at least in part a review of Berel Lang’s new biography, Vivian Gornick cites Lang’s explanation that the widely held belief that Levi committed suicide is no more than “an inference,” as there were no witnesses—nor any other actual evidence. And yet she begins her essay by asserting his suicide as a fact, and later describes him as having “leaped” to his death. Although her theory of the causes of his death are certainly interesting, it is no less speculative and thus presumptuous than the certainties of those for whom accepting Levi’s suicide would entail the negation of his life’s work and its supposed message of hope. Instead, let us consider the possibility that his writings are profound enough to withstand any particular interpretation of his life’s abrupt end, and indeed that the exquisite humanity evinced by his character and work should allow him the dignity of having had thoughts and motivations that we will never understand, or even know.

H. Gold


Dec 9 2013 - 1:59pm

The Gray Zone

To refute every bit of nonsense in Isaac Chotiner’s piece on John Gray’s Silence of the Animals would require far more time than I am willing to expend, so let me limit myself to the following absurdity:

I suppose the definition of science, which certainly some people do put “faith” in, is debatable, but when an apple falls from a tree, gravity ensures that it hits the ground regardless of whether there is a human who sees it do so. Human beings did not, then, invent gravity, or physics, or biology.

Without human observers. there is no way to be certain that the apple falls. One “knows” that it falls only through faith. Further, gravity is a human concept (and not a universally accepted one*), a description of an event and a hypothetical explanation of it. Moreover, it is pure absurdity to infer from gravity that entire manufactured fields of human learning, such as biology and physics, which are created and expanded by humans alone, must also exist independently of their creators.

As to what Gray values, and what stance he thinks is wisest for humans to take at this stage in their development, Chotiner might find a clue by putting down his copy of Eliot and reaching for a volume of Keats’s letters. I am glad to see that Gray touches a nerve among humanists, and to see how their threatened emotional reactions push them to silly assertions in an attempt to sustain their unsustainable world-view.

Kevin Shelton

New York City

Dec 8 2013 - 11:20am

Without Respite

There was not a single outrage perpetrated against the Jews by the Nazis that had not been committed against countless other equally innocent human beings even in modern times. This is not to minimize the importance of the Holocaust. Rather, it is to universalize its significance. It was in many ways an emblematic event, symbolizing the terrible human price that has been paid to build the modern world. I think Jewish writers like Ms. Gornick do the subject (and themselves) when they describe it as a unique and indescribable event. Much better to describe it in graphic detail—as has been done countless times, by Levi among others—and to emphasize its universal human significance. In my judgment, anyway.

Luke Lea

Walden, TN

Dec 4 2013 - 11:01am


Joshua Clover, WTH? Talk about wandering off a bit: “…with less purchase on the radical displacement of ethical ties by the compulsions of labor and markets.” You’re annoying! I am not going to finish reading your article.

Mrs. Clinton Esperson

Salt Lake City, UT

Dec 4 2013 - 1:26am

Without Respite

I am not a Primo Levi scholar, but based on the reports I have read, I am not convinced that his death was a suicide as opposed to an accident. (He was on an anti-depressant that can cause dizziness.)


Cleveland, OH

Dec 3 2013 - 8:55am

The Nation en Español

With the overwhelming reader backlash against Eric Alterman, he seems to have taken this on as a personal mission to enrage as many Nation readers as possible. When Alterman replies to Abdeen Jabara’s call for these type of articles to be censored, I think The Nation should go one step further. Either have Alterman admit publicly that he is your periodical’s “Zionist apologist and Israeli propagandist-in-chief” or just fire him outright. None of your readers want to read his writing, as most of us had just ignored his articles in the past anyway. It is ironic that Alterman would claim that he is the only one providing a platform for Max Blumenthal’s book, when if it had not been for his “review” of Blumenthal’s book, Alterman would still be respected by the ignorant. Alterman tries to lay the blame on his editors, and he will not even acknowledge his writing for what it is. It was clearly a review of a book that he started reading with the intention of attacking the author.

Bill Maas

Colorado Springs, CO

Dec 2 2013 - 10:21am

The Progressive Electoral Wave of 2013

You wrote that “surfing a wave of union backing, [Marty] Walsh won” the Boston mayoral election. Walsh could not have won with just union backing (especially since most Boston teachers didn’t support him during the preliminary because of his support for raising the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts). He won because three of his top preliminary challengers—one black woman, one Latino and one Cape Verdean—got on board to support him. As a progressive, white, retired history teacher, I supported Felix Arroyo in the preliminary, but held my nose and voted for Walsh in the final. I’m hopeful that he’ll rethink his stand on public education, and I wish him well.

Maureen O'Connor

Boston, MA

Nov 26 2013 - 7:25pm

Hannah and Her Admirers

I don’t think the writer of this article understood this film well. The film is as much about what is going on in the world today, suggesting the Arendt was right in seeing evil as banal. Arendt said that Eichman dissociated himself from his own humanity and that allowed him to do what he did, that he was not truly driven by hatred but by having blocked himself off from his own humanity.

The bankers, mortgage companies, investment bankers who wrecked havoc on the lives of many millions of Americans to line their pockets with great wealth, and those in the government who failed to prosecute anyone for an open fraud on the American public, also had to dissociate from their own humanity, to see the people they stole from as meaningless and even inhuman.

Arendt may have misread Eichman. Maybe Eichman did truly hate Jews. But I think she got the banality of evil right, and I think the real message of the documentary Hannah Arendt is that all kinds of banal evil have happened in this world: corporations make millions while paying fast-food workers so poorly that the taxpayers pay for their healthcare and food stamps—that is evil. Corporations make millions by inflating real estate values, selling bad loans to people who could not afford them, selling bad loan portfolios to unsuspecting investors, even betting against their own junk investments all so they could make money.

Look at any aspect of our economy: one has to dissociate from one’s own humanity to run a fracking operation, or to be the Koch brothers and fund things like wiping out union power and wiping out the middle class.

Arendt got evil exactly right. She might have gotten Eichman’s hatred of the Jews wrong and she might have been too lost in cool intellectualism to speak about the Jewish leadership in Germany as the Nazis rose in power, but her main message is that evil is really banal, and boring: it is simply when a human being dissociates from their own humanity—this dissociation allows a human to be cruelly evil to fellow humans. She got that right, it is going on in the world today… as long as some rich well connected folks are making money and greasing the right palms, banal evil happens all over the world. She got evil right. Unfortunately.

Don’t let her comments about Jews and the conflict those comments generated distract from her insight into the banality of evil. Look around the world: banal evil is all over.

Tree Fitzpatrick

Berkeley, CA

Nov 23 2013 - 9:49am

Why the Left Should Defend Obamacare

I have now read countless articles, posts, and blogs about why the Affordable Care Act is the greatest thing to happen in healthcare in years… and why it's the worst thing to happen to this country in years and will likely bring about the apocalypse. In all of this useless hyperbole I have found not a single article in the mainstream media that talks about the real healthcare issue, that is, the complete control of our healthcare system by the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

Of course, the alternative media have been onto this for years, perhaps because they don't have the restrictions incurred by receiving billions of dollars of advertising from those corporations. The hard truth of the pharmaceutical industry is that there are no profits in cures, not when compared to expensive drug treatments that last a lifetime. The everything-requires-a-drug approach to medical treatment is the norm taught in medical schools today and is largely funded by the pharmaceutical industry. And what about political influence? Why is Dick Durbin sponsoring a bill to have the FDA (a revolving door branch of Big Pharma… just look at who runs the agency) take control of approving dietary supplements? To protect the public? When more people die each year from prescription medications than all the illegal drugs and dietary supplements combined? Ka-ching!

Then there are the insurance companies. Just talk to Wendell Potter about them and you'll realize they are the totally unnecessary middlemen that are the real cause of the rising cost of healthcare. Or visit the website of Dr. David Belk to see what drugs and medical procedures really cost. It becomes apparent rather quickly that the insurance industry is soaking us all and are largely to blame for the debt that everyone is so concerned about.

And finally, why are so many Americans so sick? Why has cancer become epidemic? And diabetes? And heart disease? A little research into what's happened to food production in this country (courtesy of ADM, Monsanto, Dupont, Cargill, et al.) will answer that question. Food processing results in a product that is as much chemicals as it is food. Our food is less nutritious, with more empty calories, than at any time in our nation's history. The food producers provide what the fast-food industry requires and so the cycle goes on. Fortunately, there is a growing trend in the country toward buying organic produce and dairy products and grass-fed beef (check the info on CAFOs, and you'll only eat grass-fed from now on).

Look, I've only scratched the surface here. I'm no journalist, but there is a mountain of information out there for someone who wants report on what the real healthcare issues are. Please, let's have no more talk of insurance bills… unless there is one that gets rid of the insurance companies.

Richard Singletary

Richardson, TX

Nov 21 2013 - 3:42pm