- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2005

Strengthen Social Security

Your editorial “The ‘looming’ and ‘non-existent’ crisis” (Wednesday) cites President Clinton on Social Security. However, unlike the Bush White House, the Clinton administration never suggested deep cuts in benefits or an additional $2 trillion in debt. Quite the opposite: President Clinton proposed to reduce debt to help ensure that we have the resources to honor our obligations.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security will be able to pay full benefits for almost 50 years and most promised benefits after that. Although that’s not a crisis, the program does face long-term challenges. We need to strengthen Social Security, not undermine it, and find new ways to help Americans save for retirement.

SEN. HARRY REID

Minority leader

Washington

Dialogue with Iran

Your editorial “Distorted viewson—andfrom— Tehran” (Wednesday) mischaracterized a recent event with Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, held at the Open Society Institute.

OSI’s aim was to offer a forum for discussion on U.S.-Iran relations against a background of uncertainty about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and protracted tensions over the role of the United States in the Middle East. Part of OSI’s mission is to promote a free exchange of ideas and information. The event with Mr. Zarif was just such an exchange, allowing an Iranian official to speak and submit to questions from a diverse audience addressing issues ranging from human rights and press freedom to Iran’s nuclear plans. The goal was to gain insight into an isolated country with which there are limited opportunities for communication. Given recent developments in the region, such a perspective is of value and can help inform policy decisions.

The assertion that OSI is not interested in multiple perspectives on Iran is erroneous. OSI has for years supported academic visits and presentations of a wide spectrum of views — including critical ones — from Iran. The audio of Mr. Zarif’s talk is available on www.soros.org.

LAURA SILBER

Senior Policy Adviser

Open Society Institute

New York

Larry Summers and sex differences

There has been a lot of discussion about what Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers said or did not say about women pursuing careers in the sciences, but the more relevant and disturbing issue has been the reaction to his comment (“Last ride of the thought police,” Commentary, Friday).

Science and academia are built on research and discussion, not ridicule of unpopular or dissenting opinions. Clearly, one of the great advancements of the past century has been the progress of feminism in giving women the freedom and power to find their professional calling in whichever field their talents, interests and desires drive them. However, we cannot allow ourselves to allow any ideology — even one fueled by a good cause — to be used in a way to bias and censure scientific research and discussion. Some of science’s darkest moments in history came from attempts to decide science based on ideological belief rather than research and discussion.

Sex is fundamental to our species, is driven by biology and is the product of perhaps tens of millions of years of evolution. The presence of sex hormones in the womb do in fact have the potential to influence brain development in a number of unknown ways.

Additionally, neurologists now know that boys and girls face different challenges at different ages, because of differences in at least the timing of brain development. If we ignore these differences, we could be harming both boys and girls.

Even if both sexes end up the same over time, a good scientist needs to prove this, not engage in name-calling. That shouldn’t trouble feminists, because even if lasting differences were proven to exist, this would not in any way challenge the need to include women in all levels of science. The sum of a person’s talents will always be infinitely more complicated than any one binary variable.

We should celebrate individual differences and strive to give every individual the ability to achieve his or her most in life.

MICHAEL J. SZANTO

Chicago

Self-esteem and ‘American Idol’

Well, another season of “American Idol” is upon us (“Simon says,” Taking Names, Arts etc., Thursday). Many find themselves again watching the show’s anxious young “singers” perform. Some watch to see contestants succeed and some watch for the more interesting performances. Either way the entire spectacle plays out like a loosely-choreographed play which just might be telling us something about our society we’d rather not notice.

Admittedly, what I enjoy most about the show are the really horrible performances — the horrifying, this-has-to-be-staged type of catastrophes. Something tells you not to look, but you can’t resist.

Entertainment aside, the contestants’ reactions to the judges’ verdicts are most intriguing. Almost without fail the really bad performers react with shock, bewilderment, and outrage at being told they are very bad. The common theme reappearing throughout each show is: Everyone tells me I’m a good singer.

Why is this? It hit me: these young people are good examples of the practical results of being misled by “self-esteem” advocates. They have been told by enough people enough times they are good in spite of the fact they are not. They stride confidently into Simon Cowell’s den, cocksure of approval and success. How could this happen, and why in the world are their closest friends telling them they are good singers?

I would venture “self-esteem” indeed has an active hand in these bewildering reactions we see on “Idol.” Young minds are instructed through self-esteem that if one wishes to be a singer, all one needs to do is sing. Should one honestly assess their singing, improve and truly build up their sense of self? Apparently not. Someone in close physical proximity will say you are good, no matter what the reality. With the right (wrong) people around reassuring and patting one on the back, one can mold reality around one’s wishes to be a good singer. “You’re kidding, right?” was one young woman’s response to the negative assessment. This girl’s friends were only helping her, right?

Pay attention to what contestants say backstage for the camera and Ryan Seacrest well after the shock of rejection has settled in: “I don’t care what Simon says. I know I am a great singer.” It seems they have replaced their tone-deaf friends and become their own self-esteem coach. Anger follows their indignation and an unfriendly gesture is usually offered the mean-spirited English judge, no doubt the most wanted man on the self-esteem-police list.

It would be interesting to see what jobs and ventures these young “Idol” contestants pursue in early adulthood. Can you imagine the interview process? The yearly appraisals? My friends all tell me I am good at commercial logistics. I did not mean to mess up that $20,000 shipment of goods. It was a tough assignment, you know.

Perhaps it is fitting these “Idol” tryouts hear their first honest assessment through Mr. Cowell’s English accent. “Self-esteem” has made reality as foreign to them as tea in the afternoon.

ADAM S. JONES

Annville, Pa.

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