- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Self-defeating assumptions

You describe the Democrats getting more from soft money contributions than the Republicans because of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law (“Unintended campaign consequences,” Editorial, Sunday).

The Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. Remember it was President Bush who signed the bill after saying he would veto it. He cynically believed that the Supreme Court would kill it. This would have allowed him to take both sides of the issue. Surprise, the Supreme Court did not kill it.

This is far from the only reason the Republicans are not getting all the funds they thought. The Republicans have taken the positions the Democrats have been pushing. From amnesty for illegal aliens to increased spending to expanding socialized medicine (Medicare), these are Democrat Party positions. Look at the list of speakers at the upcoming convention: Only Sen. Zell Miller, a Democrat, is a conservative. When will the Republican leadership (oxymoron) realize they cannot win by deserting their base?

HOWARD LAST

Great Neck, N.Y.

Mona Lisa frowns

Charlotte Allen’s review of the debunking trend surrounding Dan Brown’s work, “The Da Vinci Code,” is right on target (“Debunking ‘Da Vinci’,” Books, Sunday). There is a larger story to be told here, however. Most Christians (even those very devoted ones) would not have a problem with Mr. Brown’s story, right up until the point that he asserts its truthfulness.

Nobody faults Mr. Brown for writing an engrossing and well-structured tale; but by making the claim of “fact” and attaching it to his imaginary extrapolations, he enters the world of fantasy.

Without this, he might have been elevated to the category of literary greats such as James Michener or Tom Clancy, but instead, he should rightly be relegated to conspiracy theorist — which few of us take seriously.

The fact that he has sold 6 million copies, in and of itself, does not make him a great writer. The National Enquirer does not sell in excess of 80 million copies every year because of the excellence in reporting every week.

Mr. Brown knows well the essence of a conspiracy theory and why it sells in bookstores across North America: because it tickles the audience. (Otherwise reputable Christian writers have been guilty of this as well. So, no group can claim total innocence.)

The modus operandi goes like this: begin with a small set of facts that no one disputes; proceed to an additional set of spurious “facts” that most readers will find fascinating but not bother to verify; then finish with an outlandish conclusion with a claim as to its authenticity.

The “tickle” aspect of a good conspiracy theory happens when you apply argumentum ad ignorantiam (i.e., an appeal to the ignorance of the reader) to a well-crafted and intriguing story line.

The use of “research” simply undergirds Mr. Brown’s claim of authenticity. And by appealing to the unknown and that which is not easily verifiable (as in, “you don’t know what you don’t know”), Mr. Brown has written an absolutely captivating tale.

Many Christians might even say “no harm done” if this were about Soviet spies or some foreign military, but when his bogus tale begins to lead readers away from their documented, historical Christian faith — he is getting serious.

Interestingly, the apostle Paul warned about those who would mix lies with the truth and lead the faithful astray (see II Timothy 4).

The literary world should relegate Mr. Brown to “tabloid novelist for the educated.” In any case, the most perceptive among us know that it’s not too hard to “fool most of the people most of the time” in this modern and relativistic world where our culture is constantly asking, “What is truth?”

Truly intelligent readers will be a bit more discerning and rigorous before embracing Mr. Brown’s version of it.

DAN CALLAHAN

Springfield

To regulate, or not to regulate

Dick Armey’s article (“Moving beyond regulation?” Commentary, July 24) raises many of the same questions and issues those of us involved in the industry wrestle with every day.

What role should regulation play in America’s telecommunications market? How can we make the telecom industry more competitive? How can we keep phone rates low and deploy the technologies and services needed to compete in the marketplace of tomorrow?

As this policy debate unfolds, companies such as MCI face the real-world problems of trying to run a business amidst constantly shifting regulatory and legal sands.

After eight years of a national telecommunications policy intended to encourage competition by ensuring competitive access to the monopoly local networks, the Federal Communications Commission is poised to adopt rules that could all but reverse that policy.

And this is after having already kicked companies such as MCI off the “broadband pipes” that consumers pay for in their rates. Worse, the FCC seems poised to do this without undertaking the hard work required of it by the 1996 Telecom Act and the federal courts.

As evidenced by our agreement with Qwest, MCI is willing to negotiate with the Bell companies to resolve this continuing and seemingly endless litigation cycle.

Unfortunately, most of our competitors feel no need to negotiate so long as they believe they will get all they want and more from the FCC.

Until such time as real business-to-business negotiations can resolve these issues, the FCC should take a good, hard look at markets throughout the country before making any decision about pricing for competitive access.

Having already handed the Bells the freedom to do what they want with America’s broadband networks, the FCC should at least ensure that these monopolies do not gain so much power that they further destabilize the telecommunications industry.

JIM LEWIS

MCI senior vice president, policy and planning

Denver

Is school out for summer?

The article titled “School’s in for some students” (Metropolitan, Wednesday) presented a glowing picture of the first day of school at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary, the only school in the Alexandria school system to begin year-round schooling this year.

Although year-round classes may be helpful for some students, I take issue with one of the reasons cited by Tucker Principal Patrick Comeaux-McClintock to justify the switch to a year-round school schedule. The principal states: “A lot of our kids live in high-rise apartments. They don’t have anything to do in the summer.” The fact that a child lives in a high-rise apartment does not naturally make school attendance during the summer months a necessity. I lived in apartment buildings a number of times as a child, and there were many wonderful activities, educational and otherwise, to do with my family during the summer. My mother read to my sister and me, took us to the park and brought us to various city sites.

I also enjoyed being a full-time mom to my youngest child while we lived in an apartment building, and we had a wonderful summer visiting the library and the park and simply spending more time together.

Year-round schooling is not an option I want for my children because I believe it would take away the extended time I enjoy spending with them during the summer, which I think benefits them. I can better understand the justification of this option based on providing an educational continuum in a child’s learning, but it is untrue and elitist to assume that a child needs this program simply because of the type of housing in which he or she lives.

JENNIFER WOLFF

Bowie

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