OH GEORGE, POOR GEORGE…
Your October 3 cover almost made me feel sorry for George W. Bush. Now cut that out!
NOTES IN A BOTTLE: ON THE FLOOD
Los Osos, Calif.
Your September 26 cover says, “After the Flood: The Reckoning.” Hah! What reckoning? Bush and his cronies will leave office and head for highly lucrative jobs working for their masters on K Street, and not a single member of the “moral values/accountability” crowd will be held responsible for war crimes, war profiteering, theft, mismanagement, grotesque incompetence, looting the public treasury and criminal negligence. The right-wing spin machine will declare “Mission Accomplished” and voters will elect any politician who promises to stop gay marriage and reinstate prayer in the schools. Reckoning, indeed.
Yes, the criminal neglect of our decaying infrastructure did accelerate under Reagan and subsequent neo-whatsits, but it began under Nixon [“The Disaster President,” Sept. 26]. The cost now–should we choose to repair, refurbish and/or build anew desperately needed roads, bridges, railways, canals, levees, power grids, schools and a host of other items–exceeds $20 trillion! If an enlightened (by Katrina and Rita) Congress should enact, by a veto-proof majority, legislation authorizing such repair, it could restore prosperity by putting Americans back to work!
EDWARD G. ROBLES
Bush’s delayed reaction to the Katrina storm was foreshadowed by his reaction to the California energy crisis at the beginning of his first term. Remember, he said it was our own fault because of our state’s conservation measures. It has since been proven that it was the collusion of companies with ties to Cheney that caused the shortage of electricity. Remember, like Louisiana, California is a Democratic state that did not support him in his election.
THE REAL THREAT ON THE BORDERS
Sasha Abramsky asks in “Terror on the Inner Border” [Sept. 26] if the majority of detainees, mostly Latino, arrested on the border pose a security threat. Probably not. However, to curb the flow of cheap, nonunionized labor into this country would be a tremendous economic threat to American capitalist enterprises large and small. Isn’t that the real threat on the borders? Who on the left supports the unimpeded flow of cheap labor to unscrupulous employers desperate to compete with China? The left has been diligent about pointing out the political and constitutional issues at our borders. Good for us.
Yet the failures of the Mexican economy, the resulting opportunism by US firms (as they gobble up slave-wage labor swarming across the borders) and the impact of decades of this on the US workforce have elicited a response by progressives as flaccid as Brownie’s to Katrina. Now that so many are unemployed as a result of two hurricanes, will the left remain silent? I predict the rebuilding of the Gulf states will be performed mainly by low-wage, nonunionized undocumented immigrants. The immorality of America’s new slave economy will be as threatening as the toxic sludge covering the streets of New Orleans.
Jim Safranek is correct that illegal immigration allows US corporations to compete in an ever more cutthroat global labor environment. He is also correct that this is a serious matter for a US labor force that has lost gains it fought for over decades and that risks becoming something of a Third World proletariat within a First World country. But the notion that we should ratchet down the borders to solve our economic problems is flawed. Our economy has always thrived on being open; our society and culture have always benefited from the polyglot influences of immigrants from around the world. There are other ways to tackle corporate exploitation that don’t put all the law-enforcement expectations on impoverished people trying to make better lives for themselves.
First, the government should get serious about prosecuting and fining employers who hire illegal, low-paid workers or who reap the benefits of subcontractors’ dubious labor practices. Second, we must have an honest discussion about how much we rely on cheap labor to sustain our way of life. We want people to clean our houses and mow our lawns and keep our restaurants open, but we don’t want to pay them living wages. Were we to pay a living wage, we’d still have to import laborers–but they’d be coming here legally and would be protected by the same laws that protect US citizens. Any society has a right to police its borders and regulate the influx of immigrants. The double standard is not that the Border Patrol is failing to stop the “illegals”; it’s that corporate America prefers to keep large numbers of people coming in, but in the “illegal” category. This isn’t a Border Patrol question; it’s a matter of seeing through the political double talk and economic double standards.
OH THE GORY OF IT ALL
New York City
I have to take issue with Lee Siegel’s review of my book, Oh the Glory of It All [“The Unexamined Life,” Aug. 29/Sept. 5]. Siegel is perhaps one of the foremost reviewers in the country. But at the crescendo of his argument he quotes detailed passages of dialogue from my book that he doubts I could have remembered, making them (and my supposedly questionable recollections) the center of his scathing review–the evidence around which much of his poorly reasoned argument revolves.
I join him here mid-sentence: “…the more you read, the more you wonder about the authenticity of Wilsey’s apparent candor. For one thing, Wilsey re-creates precise dialogue–quotation marks and all–that he claims to have heard as a very young boy, not to mention precise descriptions of what he says he was feeling at exact moments at the time. This is an excerpt from an extended dinner-table conversation at his parents’ house before they’re divorced that he claims to have overheard. He was 4:
MOM: How do you feel you have changed?
MAN’S VOICE: I was a Marxist. I had rejected spiritual values. But then…I saw the design in nature and I was convinced there was a Creator…. It was a bad time for me. I wanted to go home to the United States. Friends of mine got into power and I thought they would help me but they didn’t.
“This miraculously recollected conversation goes on for several hundred words.”
Siegel makes the same point again a few lines below: “Here is the 12-year-old Sean in Moscow in the early 1980s, as part of a group of children transported around the world by his mother, who through her social connections cate of world peace and nuclear disarmament. Sean is standing in the office of a Soviet official named Ruben, who is speaking informally to Wilsey’s group:
Ruben was talking about the Soviet Union’s many allies…. He said, ‘I’d like to reemphasize that all of those people regardless of their faith or race or color or nationality are absolutely equal in their rights. And I am not merely talking of…equality of peoples in the Soviet Union. For it is a genuine and true equality in everything and every sphere of life.’
“Strangely, not a single reviewer has wondered about Wilsey’s superhuman powers of recall.”
The reason not a single reviewer remarked on my powers of recall is that the above passages (and numerous others like them) have nothing to do with my memory. They come from transcriptions of audio- and videotape. I’m not sure how Siegel missed this, as I go out of my way to explain, at several points in the book, that video crews are following us around and that tapes are rolling. It’s explicit in both of the above situations.
I can stand being told I’m not funny, or that I don’t know when I am funny (actually, this is strikingly similar to something my dad told me when I was growing up–and I find it funny). I am flattered to be singled out, at 3,000 words in the nation’s “premier journal of opinion,” as a representative of cultural decadence/decline. It is interesting to hear that I am unreflective (I will have to reflect on this). I can’t help but be amused at being put forward as a rightful successor to the current President of the United States. What the hell, Siegel basically says that I’m an illiterate narcissist, and my book sucks–that’s his opinion, and he’s got a right to it! But it’s infuriating (and insidious) to be attacked by a professional reviewer who has, in fact, just not read things very closely. I would be grateful if you would set the record straight.
New York City
All through his memoir, beginning with his childhood, Sean Wilsey produces dozens of directly quoted conversations–some of them very intimate–quotation marks and all, that he claims took place between himself and various people. He presents these exchanges as verbatim recollections. On a handful of occasions, he specifies that he is quoting from a letter or a news account or from the transcript of a public event. Obviously, I did not use those passages as examples of what I skeptically called his “superhuman powers of recall.” With regard to the two examples Wilsey cites in his letter, at no point does he say in his book that he has recordings, tapes or transcripts of those exchanges. Indeed, he introduces his account of listening to his parents’ dinner party in this way: “As I went about my only-child activities…words found their way into my newly drained ears.” Surely Wilsey does not mean to imply that “video crews” followed him around throughout his life, starting from the time he was a child. Even if this impossible Warholian dream/nightmare had actually happened, in that fantastical case Wilsey the memoirist would be listening to the tapes, not remembering the past.
I never said that Sean Wilsey’s autobiography “sucked.” In my review I said that Wilsey’s “vulnerable, aching, unresolved memoir” was a private outpouring, not a literary expression, and that therefore any criticism of it would be taken by the author not as literary criticism but as a personal insult. It makes me sad that I was right.