Teachable Moment


Perhaps unconsciously motivated by a touch of riot envy, Steve Wasserman, in an otherwise informative review [“Exit Stage Left,” Oct. 29], mistakenly says that “the nation’s first teach-in, organized by the Vietnam Day Committee in May 1965,” was held on the Berkeley campus. The first Vietnam teach-in, organized by faculty and students of the University of Michigan, was held on the night of March 24,1965, on that campus. I oughta know.


Professor Sahlins is the father of the teach-in. —The Editors

Lizard Brains’ll Getcha Every Time

Avalon, Calif.

Patricia J. Williams rang my chimes with her “Lizard Brains vs. the Land of the Real” column [Oct. 29]. As a childless, pre-TV adult who talks to cabbies and came to children’s books late in life as an aide in a K-12 school library in post-retirement (recently cut because of state budget deficits), I have been continually amazed by the wisdom emitted from the mouths of stuffed rabbits and assorted other creatures. I vote for a law that requires both houses of Congress to watch Sesame Street for an hour each week and participate in monthly outreach sessions with Big Bird. They would get a basic grounding in science and critical thinking, and our country would be better for it.


Brooklyn, N.Y.

Patricia Williams writes that “thoughtful and critical response must uncover all the faulty structures of knowledge that sustain such belief systems,” referring in part to Georgia Representative Paul Broun Jr.’s statement, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.” He also said, “I don’t believe that the earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.”

It would take too long to deliver a thoughtful and critical response based on science, but let me point out some hypocrisy. The Bible also says: “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens’…. So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:4–8) and “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man” (Psalms 115:16).

Both strongly suggest that God intended man to stay put on earth. And yet Broun, addressing the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight regarding NASA, said, “I…hope that we can all work together to ensure that our nation’s space agency can securely support and appropriately protect cutting-edge research, collaborative science and mission operations.” Could Broun’s cafeteria-style Bible reading have anything to do with the aerospace industry, which is so important to Georgia’s economy?


Good Deficits, Bad Deficits

Stanford, Calif.

Thank you for Sherle Schwenninger’s October 29 article, “The Missing Economic Debate.” It makes several points I have not seen elsewhere. In August 2010, when concern over federal deficits nearly caused a national default, I asked a Stanford colleague in the economics department, “Wasn’t it an early over-concern about deficits that prolonged the Depression?” To which he replied, “That was the double dip of 1937-38.” It was nice to see Schwenninger make that point.

I went on to ask my colleague, “To the extent that World War II ended the Depression, was it killing people that did that, or a willingness to run deficits at a level that was previously unthinkable?” The answer is obvious. Again, it was heartening to see Schwenninger note the difference between “bad deficits,” such as those from war, and “good deficits,” which in personal finance are usually called investments—infrastructure investments in the case of government.

One thing I would have liked to see is a comparison of how much “fake money” (as a percentage of GDP) was created in the Great Depression, previous recessions and the current Great Recession. I suspect that the current financial mess would be closer to the Great Depression than to previous recessions, which explains why it is taking so long to dig ourselves out, especially when over-concern for deficits is making the job harder.

MARTIN HELLMAN, professor emeritus of electrical engineering, Stanford University

Industrial Diet

Cabot, Vt.

Re “Michelle’s Moves” [Oct. 29], about Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity program: let’s not fool ourselves. The modern food industry is as dysfunctional, broken and destructive as the oil, pharmaceutical or chemical industry. As long as people, including many progressives, support this industry by consuming its food, the healthcare crisis and obesity will remain. (Let’s also take a lesson from the Dutch, who call their national healthcare insurance what it is: the sick fund.) A bright spot is the growing grassroots interest in wholesome, organic foods produced by small farmers and processors with a vision. A few centuries from now a plant-based diet will be the norm, and killing—in war as well as for food—will be something of the past.


The Debates Next Time

Salem, Ore.

I commend Katha Pollitt for adeptly pointing out all the glaring omissions of vital topics from the presidential debates [“Debate This!” Oct. 29]. There was, however, one critical subject I was surprised to find missing from her list (as well as that of the moderators): campaign finance reform, including corporate personhood and the current sad state of American democracy. All her worthy debate topics would not be such burning issues one day if we could finally remove corporate money and influence from our political system. A government beholden to wealthy donors will never have the important debate subjects she listed as priorities.


Saint Cloud, Fla.

My thanks to Katha Pollitt for her insight into the debates. All the frustration I felt, she perfectly put into words with her analysis of what I call the photo op they pass off as debate—four hours of speculative hype, followed by two hours of mini stump speeches, capped off by an hour of Monday morning quarterbacking. And they wonder why the voters are disgusted? Katha gets my vote to be a 2016 debate moderator.