Studio City, Calif.

Alexander Cockburn’s masterful unmasking of the “evidence” offered to support an attack on Iraq [“Beat the Devil,” March 3] mentioned Daniel Pipes, who has condemned centers for Middle Eastern studies in US universities, which are, as far as he’s concerned, alarmingly sympathetic to radical Islam: to wit, Professor Sami al-Arian, recently arrested on terrorism charges.

We should note with concern that since 9/11, it may well have become risky for scholars to discuss openly with their students whether there are circumstances in which it is morally permissible to take up arms against one’s government. Just as McCarthyism constricted academic freedom during the 1950s and early 1960s, the war on terrorism may do the same in 2003. Pipes expressed shock that the South Florida professor “was a terrorist” based solely on an arrest, before any kind of trial, thereby discarding completely any presumption of innocence. Pipes and his coterie could use a lesson in constitutional law, and particularly in the First Amendment.


Buhl, Idaho

Alexander Cockburn cites the US bombing of the Amariya shelter in Baghdad as “the single biggest atrocity of that war.” I would like to point out that that tragic event was probably the result of mistaken intelligence, and therefore an “accident of war,” while the “Highway of Death” incident at the end of the hostilities was more in line with my definition of “atrocity.” The US Air Force blocked both ends of the highway from Kuwait to Basra, and then coldly and cruelly proceeded to strafe and bomb the length of the road, filled with fleeing vehicles, both military and civilian. There was nowhere for the trapped people to go. They were no longer a threat to the safety of US troops but were systematically wiped out. Chris Hedges, in War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, gives an eyewitness account of the results, and notes a seven-mile stretch that was littered with burned-out vehicles and charred bodies. Estimates of the dead vary, but it is clear that US forces were responsible for a “turkey shoot” that was cruel, unnecessary and whose toll very likely exceeded the nearly 500 killed in the Amariya incident.



Ithaca, NY

Alexander Cockburn offers a chilling update on the porn snoop shenanigans [“Beat the Devil,” Feb. 17] of various state and federal agencies as they target purveyors and voyeurs of “kiddie” porn. As a librarian, I can say with some pride that the American Library Association has taken considerable heat in its uncompromising stance against antiporn legislation like CIPA, which seeks to place filtering devices on public library terminals. Not only does filtering software not work as advertised, it is also clearly an abridgment of First Amendment rights in such public spaces as libraries.

Further, I agree with Cockburn that I too could care less what people watch in the privacy of their own homes if no harm comes to anyone in the process. Nothing seemed sadder than to see poor aging Pete Townshend peering forlornly from the windows of a paddy wagon as he was hauled off to the cop shop. But Cockburn, and by extension Barbara Amiel of the London Daily Telegraph, whom he quotes liberally, fail to give a full picture of the kiddie porn debate. It is one thing to be contemptuous of the authorities who selectively go after harmless voyeurs, often because of political motivations. It is quite another to be blasé about the horrors of the making of kiddie porn itself.

When young kids, often not yet teenagers, are dragged in front of the cameras as objects of sexual degradation, it is hardly confusing “dreams with deeds” as Cockburn writes. The vicious cruelty of the child pornography (and, by extension, child prostitution) industries is widespread and sickening. Here, surely, should be the real target of federal, state and international authorities’ wrath, rather than the Petes and Pee-Wees of the world. Heck, if one-tenth of the money lavished on the phony war on drugs were spent to counter the sex trade in children…well, that’s another story.



W. Bloomfield, Mich.

I was somewhat disheartened to read Katha Pollitt’s unquestioning allusion to the pre-election conversion of Dennis Kucinich to a life less anti-reproductive rights [“Subject to Debate,” March 10]. Political hacks will shed a position like a sportscoat at a South Carolina pork pull in mid-August. For Pollitt to skip any derision for this politically expedient move strikes me as relief. Oh, thank goodness we don’t have to add that little disclaimer any more on that minor little mar in Kucinich’s otherwise wonderful record. I’m dubious.


Holden, Mass.

“I’d rather credit Kucinich’s own instinct for what is right and fair in a pluralist society. Better late than never!” says Katha Pollitt. You can’t be serious. This flip-flop has all the earmarks of a deathbed conversion born of a need to become politically viable. Never mind the better late than never–how about better resolute and honest than undependable and fickle? I’m convinced now that the man belongs on a backbone-transplant list.


Buckeye, Ariz.

Maybe leopards can’t change their spots, but conservatives–and even progressives with conservative planks in their platforms–can. Many thanks to Katha Pollitt for welcoming Dennis Kucinich’s change of heart on reproductive rights and for not cloaking her welcome in a bunch of counterproductive qualifications and suspicions. Too many so-called liberals dismiss and denounce anyone who changes sides, in a kind of once-a-whatever, always-a-whatever philosophy, and if you aren’t a red-diaper baby (or in 2003, I guess you’d have to be a red-diaper grandbaby or even great-grandbaby) you simply can’t be trusted. As a former moderate Republican turned pretty-far-left liberal, I know it’s possible to change. If we don’t want to spend our time preaching to the choir, I think we have to open our arms to the converts, even (or maybe especially) the most recent ones.

So thanks, Katha, and welcome, Dennis.



Sunnyside, NY

Thank you for Gary Orfield and Susan E. Eaton’s March 3 “Back to Segregation” on the resegregation of our schools. The analysis they seem to rely on most tells only half the story. In schools that appear numerically integrated, magnet and honor programs are frequently used to create highly racialized tracks. At my high school in Seattle, 47 percent of the students were white, 35 percent black, 13 percent Asian and 4 percent Latino, yet the only class where I, a white AP student, had black classmates was PE. We must make sure not only that our schools are racially diverse but that all students have access to the opportunities offered. For an article on my high school’s racial politics, see



New York City

“You go back,” says Ward Just in André Schiffrin’s “‘Random’ Destruction” [Feb. 17] about Random House and the publishing industry, “and look at the New York Times fiction bestseller list in the 1940s and early 1950s. It is loaded with serious books.” However, the list of fiction bestsellers in the Times on July 1, 1945, from number 10 to number 1, is as follows: Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham, Dragon Harvest by Upton Sinclair, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, The Wide House by Taylor Caldwell, The Ballad and the Source by Rosamond Lehman, Immortal Wife by Irving Stone, Commodore Hornblower by C.S. Forester, Captain From Castile by Samuel Shellabarger, and A Lion Is in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley.

There is no first-rate literature here, and precious little that is “serious.” Apart from, perhaps, the Forester book and, alas, the lunatic doorstop by Rand, there’s nothing here that will ever be read again. Schiffrin laments the fact that publishers make money on dross; but it was ever thus.




With a huge nod to Calvin Trillin:

If Harvard and Yale universities,
With all their prestige and diversities,
Had used just good grades as criteria–
Would they have not found Bush inferia?