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Pardon Me?

Can a new administration help the world forget the sins of its predecessor? Should it?

Regarding "Truth With Consequences" (August), I continue to be amazed at the intensity and scope of the ongoing discussions in our public discourse that seems to be narrowly focused on the what, why, where, etc., of the major highlights of the current Bush administration. Yet for all the intensity, the discussion appears to intentionally ignore the primary issue, which is "how can we contain elected leaders from becoming loose cannons?" We have laws that our leaders and legal system refuse to enforce. We have a Congress that intentionally abdicates their responsibility for maintaining a check and balance of the abuse of executive power. We are clearly having a firsthand experience of the maxim that "absolute power corrupts absolutely." I thought we were attempting to have a democracy, not a monarchy. The system is broken, and we are amusing ourselves with detail, hoping that with a new administration, and our short-term memory, it will all go away. And there is no reason to believe that this behavior will not continue. I expect the last act of this administration will be to pardon all the actors. The situation is embarrassing.

Don Benson
Portland, Ore.

Ageism, With Assault Rifle
I want to protest the outrageous caricature of the old soldier on your August cover. I think it is the most ageist cartoon I have ever seen. I know it was supposed to be funny, but this is going too far with the oxygen tank and spilled medicine bottles all over. Furthermore, the article it accompanies ("Pax Americana Geriatrica") makes several dubious assumptions, such as that aging populations reduce productivity and will reduce terrorism, as well as omitting two mitigating facts.

First, the increased cost to a nation of more older people is offset by the reduced cost of fewer children (fewer schools, fewer pediatricians, etc.). In fact, the total dependency ratio, which takes into account the number of children as well as the number of older people, is expected to remain fairly stable in most of the industrial nations.

Second, any "shortage" of younger workers in a population is easily taken care of by allowing more immigration of younger people. The article does recognize that the increasing costs of Social Security could be largely taken care of by delaying the age of entitlement for retirement benefits.

The main redeeming aspects of the article are the recommended policies that are generally good recommendations, despite being based on faulty assumptions.

Erdman Palmore
Professor Emeritus
Duke University Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development
Chapel Hill, N.C.

More Dismal Science, Please
Amazing! A huge article ("The Next Market Crunch: Water," August) with "market" in the title fails to mention markets and prices as a means of allocating water. Please, please, please — less engineering (gee whiz!) and more economics. Read

David Zetland
Berkeley, Calif.

Count Before You Drink
A recent Miller-McCune article ("Environment Becomes Heredity," August) discusses "bisphenol A (BPA), a controversial ingredient in plastics that is known to be an estrogen disrupter." I think it is important for readers to know that BPA is found only in polycarbonate, not in all plastics. For example, most single-serve plastic bottles, including those for water, soft drinks and juices, are made with a polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is universally recognized as safe and recyclable. How to tell the difference? All plastic containers should have a number on the bottom; PET containers are labeled with a recyclable "1," and polycarbonate is one of several materials identified with a "7."

Steve Alexander
Washington, D.C.

Any Entrepreneurial Soccer Moms Out There?
Years ago, we had jitneys in some areas with inadequate or nonexistent public transportation ("Old Without Wheels," August). These were entrepreneurs with vans or station wagons that offered rides for a small fixed fee. This might fill the availability and cost gap between fixed route buses and taxis in these areas.

Ivan Gennis
Sacramento, Calif.

Unhappily Ever After
Your summary of the happiness research ("Should the Government Make Us Happy?" June/July) shows why that research is probably not settled enough for policy implications. Among the claims you mentioned is that "events that make (people) happy for years" include marriage. The claim that marriage makes people happier has been debunked yet is still perpetuated by many happiness researchers (and journalists). Bella DePaulo wrote about the faulty logic behind that claim in her book Singled Out. More recently, Richard E. Lucas and Andrew Clark "confirmed that individuals do not get a lasting boost in life satisfaction following marriage." Granted, there is a brief blip right after the wedding, but overall, people return to their pre-wedding happiness level. Which brings me to another key point that you did not mention: the adaptation theory, which suggests that people who get married or laid off, for example, return to baseline levels of happiness relatively quickly (at least on average — of course, there are individual variations). If people adapt back to their baseline happiness, policies that try to increase happiness are pretty much set up for failure from the get-go. This also suggests that there are other factors that underlie happiness. It might not be possible to influence those factors via legislation, although I would agree with Kasser that removing "institutions (or policies) which make it difficult for people to pursue happiness" would be a step in the right direction. And more emphasis on a social contract, through universal health care and sustainable consumption, for example, has merit on its own terms.

Rachel Buddeberg
San Francisco

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