I am an avowed conservative, America-loving libertarian who thinks 90 percent of what’s in The Nation is pure left-wing crybaby drivel. But I have to admit, Katha Pollitt’s column on the Ten Commandments is priceless! [“Subject to Debate,” Sept. 22]



Cancún, Mexico

In a grotesquely inaccurate and prejudiced article, Marc Cooper depicts Cancún as a vast slum, an environmental disaster and an example of globalization at its worst [“Behind Globalization’s Glitz,” Sept. 22]. Actually, it might be an example of globalization at its best–except it’s not much of an example of globalization at all. Cancún was designed and built and mainly financed by Mexicans.

Many of the hotels have names like Omni or Sheraton, but they refer to the operating companies that provide marketing services. At least 70 percent of Cancún’s hotels are owned by Mexicans. Even the franchises, like McDonald’s, are Mexican companies, as are the franchisees.

The waters off Cancún are crystal clear. The lagoons suffer from some contamination, mainly due to illegal discharges by a small minority of hotels and restaurants, but by the standards of beach resorts like Key West they would be considered unpolluted. There is no visible smog here. The underground water table is beginning to show some signs of pollution, but nothing like what’s happening to American cities. Garbage collection and disposal are indeed very poor.

The overwhelming majority of Cancún residents have water, sanitation, healthcare, electricity and educational services, and they live in houses made of cement, not tarpaper. A lot of these houses are quite simple, but residents are mainly homeowners rather than renters, and they fix up and expand the basic units with surprising speed.

Many of Cancún’s residents have come from the most desperately hopeless poverty imaginable, seeking clean air and better jobs. Cooper never asks a very obvious question of any of the people he talks with: Would they like to go back to where they came from?

The article contains too many errors to correct here, so I’ve posted a more complete refutation on my website, www.cafecancun.com. Disclaimer: I have lived and worked in Cancún since 1983, but I have no connection of any kind with the Cancún tourism-promotion authorities.



Woodland Hills, Calif.

Few places in the hemisphere suffer such a profound socioeconomic divide as does Cancún, in effect dividing the city into two separate worlds. I am pleased to find that Siegel lives in the more fortunate one.




I liked Doug Ireland’s “Marriage of Convenience” [Sept. 1/8], but he goes a bit overboard when he says, “Germany now accords all the legal rights that married heterosexual couples have to their gay counterparts.” Germany’s law is one of the best of Europe’s same-sex partnership laws, which are victories for lesbian/gay rights. But none of these laws give gays full equality. In particular, none of them give same-sex couples the automatic full parenting rights that straight couples get.

Two women can marry now in Holland, for example, but if they have a child while married the co-mother still has to wait, pay lawyer’s fees and go to court to adopt–while a male sperm donor can still block adoption. Even an unmarried straight father doesn’t have to wait or pay for an adoption. In Denmark two women can register their relationship, but they’re legally barred from artificial insemination services in public hospitals.

Yes, the United States should learn from countries that are years ahead of it on partnership issues. But there are cautionary lessons here too. European lesbian/gay movements rarely chose same-sex marriage as their top priority. Politicians with agendas on their own made this their issue of choice. The US movement could learn from this by thinking again about the basic causes of inequality and the tactics that can address those causes most effectively–issues that some European gay groups are starting to raise through the European Social Forum.




Naomi Klein’s “Lookout” column “Mutiny in Manila” [Sept. 1/8], brought to mind my own experiences in the Philippines serving as an enlisted infantryman in the US Marine Corps. In fall 1989 I was awarded a Meritorious Mast for training elite Filipino Marine Corps troops in the art of coordinated live-fire assaults and small-unit tactics. The ostensible purpose of this training was to protect the people of the Philippines from Communist insurgents and other assorted evildoers.

Imagine my surprise when this elite Filipino force attacked the freely elected government of Corazon Aquino immediately after receiving our highly specialized training. The insurrection was defeated by forces loyal to the President in bloody urban combat on the streets of Manila, with considerable loss of life on all sides (including civilians). When I recount this to Americans, the response is either a vacant stare or hostility. Klein is correct: Americans don’t want to hear about this.



Avondale Estates, Ga.

Will Hutton’s “The American Prosperity Myth” [Sept. 1/8] was brilliant and, pardon the pun, on the money. Hutton defined with facts and precision the gut feeling that led me to my recent decision to abandon my role in the American business machine. I left a job with a comfortable salary to escape eight daily hours of unstimulating and unchallenging work (whose sole purpose seemed to be increasing the wealth of a single, already wealthy individual), and its attendant two-hour commute, to take a chance on my own freelancing business. It may never bring me seven figures, but then again, in European fashion, I believe a business should serve a purpose beyond merely the ruthless (and hollow) pursuit of perpetual profit.

Ultimately, despite being an American, I fall decidedly on the “Old World” side of the maxim “Americans live to work; Europeans work to live.”


Lafayette, Calif.

Will Hutton writes that “Ford and GM are a decade behind Volkswagen in the sophistication of their production techniques.” If his claim is true, that would be doubly ironic. Volkswagen is still a state-controlled company, despite partial privatization over the past decades. A report issued by the European Investment Bank (Luxembourg) on July 10 states that Volkswagen is “controlled by the state of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) and protected by special law.” The state of Niedersachsen is Volkswagen’s largest shareholder. Apparently public ownership of the means of production is not necessarily bad.



Oquossoc, Maine

It’s terrific that Janwillem van de Wetering writes in praise of Maine, but he trashes the vast noncoastal part of the state and caricatures its people [“The Way Life Should Be,” Sept. 1/8]. Up here in the western mountains, Maine is a land of clear lakes, inviting mountains, thick evergreen forests and great people, “the way life should be.” Also, you’d think that a Nation article would remind readers that Maine is leading the way in prescription drugs, universal health insurance and public campaign financing.


Brooklin, Maine

Maine’s proverbial pond has more than one rotting raccoon afloat. Janwillem van de Wetering’s “way life should be” skated around one essential point of life on the coast of Maine: We are living on some of the most prime real estate in the country. The baby boom generation–the biggest, richest and, come to think of it, most destructive generation ever–has set its mind and collective buying power to escape the crowded Eastern Seaboard it helped ruin, to go north to an Eden wild enough, but not too wild, so that the New York Times is still available at the corner store.

The result: Local real estate value is being driven by robust “from away” economies, leaving Mainers with Connecticut-sized tax bills and little choice but to move out.


San Dimas, Calif.

I enjoyed the paean to Maine, and am responding to the roadside sign mentioned, “Be Alert, Think of Bert.” The author says, “Bert who? Who cares Bert who?” I wonder if Bert doesn’t refer to Marshall Dodge, a fellow student at Yale in the mid-1950s, the teller of those wonderful Bert and I stories. As I recall, he was killed in the early 1980s while on his bike.

I can still hear him beginning, “Beht and I ran a little lobstah fishin’ bizness down east ah Kennebunkpaht…”


Rochester, Mass.

Janwillem van de Wetering’s wry evocation of the state of Maine (double meaning intended) was delightful, but he states that the finback whale is “the largest creatures ever to live on this planet.” The finback must take second place to the blue whale. The largest blue reported was some 113 feet long, with an estimated weight of 400,000 pounds. That’s longer than a Boeing 737 and nearly three times its takeoff weight. Its tongue is about the size of a Volkswagen bug.

The blue has been mercilessly hunted for nearly a century, and its numbers have dwindled from about a quarter-million to perhaps 10,000, which is why I feel obliged to speak in its defense.



Nutley, NJ

One criterion I use to judge the livability of a state is whether George W. Bush contested it in 2000. I am happy to report that he did not set foot in New Jersey once, ran not a single TV ad and that his loss was in double digits. That says something positive about the hearts and minds of the people of New Jersey [“Letters,” Aug. 18/25], a state that combines the highest per capita personal income with the politics of compassion and fairness.



Columbia, Md.

My spirits were lifted by the letters from your young readers [“‘Slugs’? I Don’t Think So!” Oct. 6]. What a pleasant surprise that it is not just us old ones who are active! We need new blood in the Democratic Party.