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Correspondence: July 1, 1985


To the editors:

TRB’s analysis favoring mandatory seat belt laws (or automatic seat belts) over air bags (“Serfdom and Seat Belts,” June 3) is based on the premise that seat belts are as effective as air bags. They are not.

The Office of Technology Assessment and other equally reliable sources estimate that if all cars were equipped with air bags as many as 12,000 occupant deaths would be prevented each year. This is twice the number of lives that would be saved if everyone buckled up. The reason for the difference is that air bags are far more effective than seat belts in front-end collisions (which account for 60 percent of all occupant fatalities). Seat belts do not, for example, prevent a driver from striking his or her head on the steering column, whereas air bags do. Head injuries are the single most important cause of auto occupant fatalities.

Air bags are automatic. The population most at risk in car crashes is teenagers and young adults. Unfortunately, they are the age group least likely to buckle up. If our society really does care about our young people as we say we do, we’ll make an investment in automatic protection for them.


Washington, D.C.



To the editors:

To be really effective, a “hatchet piece” such as Tina Rosenberg’s “Fool of Ships” (June 3) article on Navy Secretary John Lehman should demonstrate some semblance of objectivity.

As a friend of John Lehman of more than a dozen years who was interviewed for this story, but, of course, not quoted, I was pleased to see that the author went so far overboard in trying to make Lehman appear as a villain.

Because of the extreme bias displayed in this article, even those readers who do not know John Lehman personally or are not aware of his outstanding abilities will readily recognize the malice aforethought that characterizes this article.

Ms. Rosenberg obviously has serious reservations about Lehman’s goal of a 600-ship Navy and the utility of aircraft carriers. But public debate would have been far better served in the pages of TNR by serious discussion of these issues than by accusations against Lehman such as having “wrecked careers, snookered Congress, and lied to his bosses.”

If you can’t make your arguments without maligning someone whom the author herself described as “one of the most effective” secretaries of the Navy, then perhaps the weakness is in the arguments, and not in the character of a person who holds differing views.


Washington, D.C.



To the editors:

David Harman’s hostile review of Jonathan Kozol’s superb Illiterate America (“Teaching Johnny to Read,” May 27) did little justice to it. Harman, himself a researcher in education, sees great complexities in the problem of literacy in America and takes Kozol solemnly to task for his “simplistic exposition of the troublesome dilemma of illiteracy” and the “sophomoric nature” of his solutions. But Kozol’s book is a parti pris, a call to arms—not a dry monograph replete with standard deviations. Harman declares that “technical reading skills, literacy and functional literacy each develop best in different settings.” If so, what does this leave us in the public schools except “the teaching of mechanical reading skills”?

Kozol sees skill in reading and writing as the empowerment of our citizenry. He would have adult literacy programs make use of controversial books and other materials. Literacy therefore would not simply fit the individual like a cog in our vast corporate machine; it would be a process of spiritual liberation, a concomitant of serious, critical thought.

To this end, Kozol advocates a national mobilization of committed literacy volunteers. It’s a revolutionary approach designed to capture the imagination of the young. Harman, like many of his colleagues in professional education, balks at this sort of action.

What the teaching profession needs desperately is the informed passion of committed teachers. Such a cadre of teachers will not be forthcoming unless teacher education in this country is radically improved. I suspect that Kozol has irritated Harman by his stinging critique and subsequent dismissal of professional educationists. As Harman has noted, Kozol makes precious little reference to the “literature” of professional education. We may praise the Lord!


Beaufort, South Carolina



To the editors:

Bernard Aronson’s analysis of U.S. policy alternatives in Nicaragua (“Another Choice in Nicaragua,” May 27) begins with a faulty analogy and ends with a contradictory conclusion. Aronson argues that the same type of centrist-oriented policy we followed in El Salvador could be duplicated in Nicaragua. But Aronson forgets that in the former case, the government was the recipient of our military assistance; consequently, the U.S. possessed sufficient leverage to move El Salvador to the center. In Nicaragua, our aid goes to a rebel opposition with dubious prospects of military success.

Furthermore, Aronson claims that a “regional security” treaty would be unenforceable, since neither the Contadora nations nor the U.S. will intervene militarily in the event of Sandinista violations. But if Aronson believes the Sandinistas can be certain that America will never intervene in the region militarily, how does he think they can be pressured into fulfilling the goals of “democratic pluralism, a mixed economy, and genuine nonalignment”?

The answer presumably, lies in our ability to make life difficult for the Sandinista regime through our support for the contras. Yet Aronson fails to address what should be the central focus of his analysis: Do the contras  have any chance of military success? My suspicion is that they do not. Supporters of the contras, from Aronson to the Reagan administration, have completely failed to prove otherwise. Wholesale support of contras will only result in military obligations to a losing cause. Aronson’s faith that U.S. to 15,00 rebel contras will produce the same results as aid to a majority government in El Salvador is simply untenable.


Chapel Hill, North Carolina