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Supreme Mistake

In their discussion of the Supreme Court decision Bush v. Gore ["The Triumph of Expedience," Forum, May], law professor Pamela Karlan and Judge Richard Posner debated whether the finding was similar to that in Korematsu, the Japanese-American internment case. Posner defended the validity of the 1944 Korematsu decision and in so doing demonstrated his ignorance of the case and the government actions surrounding it. Excluding all Japanese Americans from the West Coast and confining them to camps in March 1942 was illegal and racist.

Posner defended Korematsu on the basis of security concerns at the time. There may have been a fear in the general population that Imperial Japanese naval action might occur on our Pacific coast, but this anxiety unquestionably was raised and fueled by the anti-Japanese press and exploited by economic and political interests. The U.S. Army general charged with the defense of the West Coast and congressmen representing the region were briefed in February 1942, by General Mark Clark and Admiral Harold Stark, the chief of Naval Operations, that there was no chance Japan could mount an operation against our West Coast. There was, in fact, "some minor shelling of the Oregon coast by a Japanese submarine," as Posner mentions. But this took place in June 1942, after innocent people had been confined in War Relocation Authority "camps," and thus was not a justification for internment.

Judge Posner was also only partially correct when he said that some "Japanese Americans had refused to swear unqualified allegiance to the United States." The oath of allegiance was requested by the War Relocation Authority only after Japanese Americans were already in the "camps" (as part of a poorly conceived program to recruit volunteers). Furthermore, Posner does not mention the significant fact that during World War II no other groups of Americans were forced to answer similar loyalty questions, even those Americans from such enemy countries as Germany and Italy.

Lastly, the Supreme Court decision in Korematsu is the most blatant instance of U.S. government officials suppressing evidence and presenting false information for justices to act upon. This was revealed in three coram nobis, or writ of error, cases in the 1980s (for which I served as a documentary researcher): Korematsu, Yasui, and Hirabayashi. These resulted in the vacation, in three separate courts, of all three wartime convictions.

Based on findings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (for which I served as an adviser), Congress extended a national apology and awarded token financial restitution to survivors of the camps. These actions, along with the favorable rulings in the coram nobis cases, are the ultimate refutation of Judge Posner's contention that the Supreme Court's wartime decision "is defensible."
Jack Herzig
Falls Church, Va.

Rap Cheat

The Reading about using rap music in psychological therapy for young African-American men ["Jung M.C.," May] was more amusing than you may have known. In it, a student was asked to read some rap lyrics he had written and was praised by the therapist for "being such a creative writer." The lyrics he read were actually plagiarized from "City Under Siege" by the Geto Boys. Come now, I'm sure one of your editors has a copy of their self-titled 1990 album lying around somewhere.
Paul Chillman

A Bug's Strife

I was pleased to see an account of California's struggle with the glassy-winged sharpshooter, the bacteria-laden insect that threatens to wipe out the state's vineyards ["Day of the Locust," William Hamilton, May], especially outside the pages of the wine-trade press. Hamilton does a good job of explaining how this newly arrived pest transmits the incurable, vine-choking Pierce's disease and of setting the historical and social context for this agricultural cliff-hanger.

The article, however, is extreme in its portrayal of environmental activists who rightly fear that the proposed cure for the sharpshooter--massive lethal spraying--may be worse than the disease. Hamilton's cast of characters--"the local Prince of Trust-Funded Environmentalists" and "his notorious cat's-paw" (from the Sierra Club), as well as an activist who claims to channel the voices of grapevines--demonstrates the skills Hamilton uses in his day job as a cartoonist. Unfortunately, the depiction sidesteps the problems that will arise if--more likely, when--the sharpshooter pays a visit to the upscale Napa-Sonoma region.
Tim Patterson
Berkeley, Calif.

Reading through "Day of the Locust," I had to keep turning to the magazine's cover to reassure myself that I had not inadvertently picked up some glossy Napa Valley Chamber of Commerce wine-industry-booster throwaway. William Hamilton claims that the choice in Napa Valley is between vines and condos, and argues that we must feel some gratitude to the vineyards for saving the land from development. But this is not the case: Napa and Sonoma Valleys have been overdeveloped in self-serving and damaging ways. If so-called wine lovers really could taste all those delicate fruity nuances from northern California wines, they'd also taste, in robust amounts, the nasty pesticides and excrement-based fertilizers used in massive amounts, as well as the sweat of workers who toil like serfs without the benefit of humane employment protections--all so that a few affluent folks can write off their tacky estates while providing a product of which there is already an oversupply. True open space could have been preserved without the vineyards.
Steve Heilig
San Francisco

If William Hamilton wanted to write about a true biological catastrophe in northern California, he should have written about Phytophthora, a water-borne invader that has appeared around San Francisco in the last couple of years. Phytophthora kills native trees faster than vineyard expansion plans, and affects tanoak, coastal live oak, black oak, madrone, bay laurel, and huckleberry--all primary components of California coastal and interior forests.

Little is known about Phytophthora other than that it is fast, virulent, and will drastically change the California countryside. Because its victims aren't commercially valuable, it has no coalitions lobbying for its eradication, no well-funded research programs searching for cures, and little public attention. But at its current rate of expansion, I'm afraid we're all going to be raising our glasses of wine under the gnarled dead branches of our previously beautiful forests.
Mike Boom

A Mask of Her Own

Unintended irony lurks in the opening sentence of Michael Scammell's frustrating and amusing memoir on translating two novels by Vladimir Nabokov ["The Servile Path," May]:
   Translators are the ghosts of the literary profession, invisible men who
   don a mask and pretend to be someone else.

If the men are invisible, what are the women? It is a commonplace that literary women have considerable experience in wearing masks, particularly male ones. Aside from the works written and translated anonymously over the centuries and now attributed to women, there is a worthy collection of poetry and prose that has seen the light of day through the recognized efforts of female translators.

A slight effort might have yielded a more accurate lead:
   Translators are the ghosts of the literary profession, invisible people who
   don masks, each pretending to be someone else.
Mary Golden
Boulder, Colo.

Yuppie on Board

Paul Roberts's article about SUVs ["Bad Sports," April] is an enjoyable and informative piece for those of us SUV loathers who can never see around them in traffic or at intersections. But I take issue with Roberts for his repeated reference to SUVs' ability to advertise sexual availability and obscure marital status. (He chooses to place them in the lineage of penis cars such as the Corvette and vintage Mustangs.)

I look around and see something entirely different, something nearly mythological: I see the head of a blonde suburban housewife and the body of an SUV. I call this creature "the Sport-Utilitaur." Like its Greek predecessors the Minotaur and the centaur, the Sport-Utilitaur has the ability to overpower its foes. Whether on the freeway or in the mall parking lot, I in my compact sedan stand no chance against this megashopping, errand-running soccer mom. Her marital status is patently clear, as is her evolutionary advantage: just as the Minotaur and the centaur revealed the limits of humans and overcame them, so this blonde-headed, truck-bodied beast is nonpareil in the art of consuming and negotiating for a parking space.

As much as I resent being hostage to the production whims of the Arab oil cartel, I am now forced to cast all those arrogant emirs and sultans in the role of Theseus. Based on the current low financing charges I have seen for SUVs, I delight in thinking they have mortally wounded the Sport-Utilitaur with high gas prices.
Milo Bobbins
Mankato, Minn.

Before reading Paul Roberts's article, I viewed the drivers of SUVs with a sort of contempt. At a time of highest environmental awareness, how could anyone indulge in such gross consumption, even as gas prices climb? While riding in a friend's Explorer, I was grateful for the tinted windows lest someone spot me, and I exited the vehicle abashed.

But reading about the auto companies' manipulation of the consumer as they prey upon insecurity and fear while feeding a vague fantasy of rugged individualism has softened my heart. I still dread driving near these lane-overflowing behemoths; I still feel disgust at the sight of one SUV taking up two regular-size parking spaces in our shrinking city. But now, more than anything else, I feel pity.
Steve Milano
San Francisco

Evolution of the Specious

Robin Fox ["Human Nature and Human Rights," Readings, April] attempts to expose popular misconceptions about "human rights" and "human nature" but equivocates so often on these words that it is difficult to tell where he stands.

The flaw in Fox's thinking is his exclusion of part of human behavior from the category "human nature." In good Darwinian tradition, he may be right in asserting a priori that nature's main objective is procreation or protection of the "gene pool" (though this presumes an anthropomorphic telesis Darwin himself might dismiss). For at least 10,000 years, according to Fox, our species has evolved increasingly complex social structures. Many provide for the protection, procreation, and promulgation of some members who could be considered marginal or undesirable in strict Darwinian terms. Some of our cherished traditions and institutions deny the "law" of "natural selection." In short, we often protect the weak, restrain the strong, and feel good about doing it. But is this "unnatural"?

All human behavior should be included in the category "human nature," not just the part that fits with the commonly held Darwinian view of nature as red in maw and claw, bent on procreation. Fox himself seems to suggest this and thus betrays the initial thrust of his essay in his final Hepburn-to-Bogart quotation, "Human nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above." Is that motivation outside the category "human nature," even if we ourselves are the ones being urged along by it?
William Brandon
Naples, Fla.

To Boldly Row

Letter writer Greg Felton ["Infinitive Joust," Letters, July] in responding to David Foster Wallace's defense of the split infinitive ["Present Tense," April] shows himself to be unaware that splitting an infinitive often introduces an altogether new meaning. For example, "to dance divinely on the belly of Elvis" means that the dancing itself is divine. "To divinely dance on the belly of Elvis" means that the act itself is divine, even if the dancing happens to be amateurish, prosaic, or even obscene. The same point can be made for "to boldly go where no man has gone before"--an accurate statement even if the going is done in a timid or frightened manner.
Bill King

Greg Felton tries to bolster his anal-retentive argument "that there is no persuasive argument for split infinitives" in Standard Written English by directing us to an example "made infamous by Star Trek." In doing so, he ignores the second half of the famous phrase in question, perhaps because looking at the entire thought would illustrate how weak his argument is.

In the statement "to boldly go where no man has gone before," it is (contrary to what Mr. Felton says) the "going where no man has gone before" that is important--space exploration is the central premise of the show. That the crew acts boldly is supplementary information. Therefore, it is the going where no man has gone before that belongs at the end of the sentence, in, as Mr. Felton writes, "the emphatic position."

Besides, "to go boldly where no man has gone before" sounds awkward and ridiculous. A preference for this phrase seems to indicate an aversion to split infinitives so arbitrary that it borders on blind faith.

And to address "Female Linguist" Katharine Beals's assertion in her letter that pants are more comfortable than skirts: I have worn both, and skirts are so insanely more comfortable than pants that to argue in favor of pants verges on the nonsensical. I must assume her discomfort is more political than physical. Why does she think the men of Scotland wear kilts? Surely not all of them simply want to dress like women.
Ed Keenan

Harper's Magazine welcomes reader response. Please address mail to Letters, Harper's Magazine, 666 Broadway, New York, NY 10012, or email us at Short letters are more likely to be published, and all letters are subject to editing. Volume precludes individual acknowledgment.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Harper's Magazine
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Aug 1, 2001

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