Responses to our Summer 2014 Issue


Lowering the Boom

As a 67-year-old and a lifelong liberal, I find “The Fear Factor” (Summer 2014) a welcome contrast to the common view that old people are a burden on society. Unfortunately, however, after criticizing the “addition of ‘old age’ as the modifier to the starkness of the dividing line between the dependent and the productive,” which “bluntly separates older Americans from everyone else,” Lincoln Caplan commits the same injustice against the disabled. He approvingly cites two demographers who assume that “people need permanent care … when they are disabled” and who have “developed a measure they call the adult disability dependency ratio.” This overlooks the fact that many blind, deaf, or mobility-impaired people of all ages need no more care than able-bodied people do and, if given the opportunity, can be employed and productive—if society doesn’t bluntly separate them from everyone else.

Felicia Nimue Ackerman

Providence, Rhode Island


Though Lincoln Caplan’s article points out many reasons not to fear the maturing of the so-called baby boomer generation, he ignores one very important reason. American prosperity during the early boomer years was in part based upon outlandish military spending for the Cold War—building aircraft carriers and manning them with youthful boomers. Now that the Cold War has ended, we can reallocate from the military to the boomers. Instead of aircraft carriers, we can build elaborate residential facilities for aging boomers, thereby contributing to the well-being of Generation Xers, just as military expenditures contributed to the prosperity of the boomers during their younger years.

Hugo M. Pfaltz Jr.

Summit, New Jersey


I enjoy The American Scholar very much and read it from cover to cover. However, the word geezer on the cover deeply offends me. I am 66 years old and in good health, still working, vibrant, intelligent, and enjoying life to the fullest. I do not understand why it’s necessary to label older Americans in such a demeaning manner.

Ann Hunt

Charlotte, North Carolina


Taking Sides

Steven Simon should not have been surprised that Kai Bird’s latest book, The Good Spy, takes the Palestinian side against Israel (“Dangerous Liaison,” Books). His memory of Bird’s previous book (Crossing Mandelbaum Gate) is misleadingly generous. Bird was no more sympathetically neutral in the 2010 book than in his latest one. Mandelbaum Gate, despite expressing sympathy for Holocaust victims, demonstrates no sympathy for modern Israel and is quite one-sidedly pro-Palestinian.

Sheldon Goldfarb

Vancouver, British Columbia


The Simplicity of Nostalgia

There’s no need to intellectualize nostalgia, as Willard Spiegelman does in “Proust Goes to the Country Club.” As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about late afternoon summer days more than 40 years ago. I would get the newspaper from our front lawn and, in the sunlight turning a deeper yellow, inhale the fragrance of fresh newsprint. I can still hear the sound the rubber band made as I slipped it up and off the newspaper, and I can still see my mother sliding it around and down the kitchen faucet so that we could use it, along with others she collected there, in the future.

Such a memory seems trivial, yet it is unforgettable. What matters is the present, or the future that will become the present. The past is irrelevant and useless, like a boat sailing toward the horizon that becomes dimmer and dimmer until it vanishes. But we all want, or should want, to complete our lives in a meaningful way, and it can’t be done unless we draw a spiritual line that connects our past to our present. Nostalgia is not about fear or balm or self-indulgence; it’s about life itself—a simple act of love for times, places, sensations, people—gone forever except as we keep them alive.

John D. Lynn

from our website


Proverbial Precedent

It appears that Ralph Keyes didn’t consult a dictionary before labeling “sluggard” a neologism (Back Talk). The OED lists examples as early as 1398, but its most famous appearance is undoubtedly Proverbs 6:6—“Go to the ant, thou sluggard.” It has nothing to do with “laggard.”

Roger Bagnall

New York City


Giving Credit

Allow me a small correction to David Levering Lewis’s fascinating essay (“The Autobiography of Biography,” Books Essay). Michael Holroyd wasn’t wisecracking about biographers who have “added a new terror to death.” He was quoting someone else. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations attributes the line to Baron Lyndhurst (1772–1863).

David J. Wilson

from our website

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