- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Give Pakistan a break

Having met Arnaud de Borchgrave, I realize that he is concerned about Pakistan. But while reading his latest column, "Pakistan's paranoid panjandrum" (Commentary, Monday), I came away with a feeling that he has incorrectly perceived some basic realities.
Contrary to what is reported by some quarters, there is maximum cooperation between Pakistan and the United States in the coalition campaign against international terrorism. The best judges in this case are Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, FBI Director Robert Mueller, CIA Director George Tenet and Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command. We continue to receive positive reinforcement from them for our efforts in this joint struggle.
The isolated violent incidents on Pakistan's Afghani border are nothing but that isolated and random acts. There is no established pattern of noncooperation or tepid commitment from our side.
It is not a cliche to say that even the best of friends have occasional differences, and in a healthy and robust relationship disagreements are bound to crop up. But there is nothing that cannot be sorted out in a telephone call between our leaders or their deputies. In fact, telephone diplomacy has been a constant and positive feature of our bilateral relations.
As far as the unfounded and politically motivated leaks about Pakistani-backed nuclear proliferation are concerned, all we can say is that there is nothing substantive about them. The matter has been raised at the highest levels, and the United States has accepted Pakistan's point of view. The International Atomic Energy Agency also has not found anything incriminating in this matter. There are many sources of nuclear proliferation in countries that have loose controls over their stockpiles.
As the process of democratization is under way and the recently elected government continues to establish itself, Pakistan needs supporters, not doubting Thomases.

Press attache
Embassy of Pakistan

The insignificance of Mr. 'Banana Boat'

How are we supposed to take the comments of Harry Belafonte seriously ("Inside Politics," Nation, Wednesday)? His recent criticisms of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have to be taken in perspective and with a fairly large grain of salt.
Here we have a man whose only claim to fame is being called "The King of Calypso," and whose most famous song is titled, "The Banana Boat Song." Now, seriously, should we allow a man with these credentials to cause us so much as one second of anxiety? Since he is entirely irrelevant in the political arena, the answer is no.
Mr. Belafonte is, of course, entitled to his opinion on any topic he should choose, but it remains for the rest of us to give as much credibility to him and his opinions as they deserve. In this particular case, his opinions deserve the same amount of attention (or perhaps a little less) as one would give a wet sidewalk.
It is unfortunate that otherwise good news media outlets would give this boring issue any airtime or ink. As the new version of the old saying goes, "No news is still news."

Gainesville, Fla.

Why English professors get no respect

As Suzanne Fields observes in her column "To be, or not to be an English professor" (Op-Ed, Monday), English professors may not "get it." But Mrs. Fields doesn't get it, either. As Robert E. Lee might have put it, the problem with the best English teachers is that they are writing for the newspapers.
First, the writings of English professors haven't lost touch with their audience. Academics compose essays for each other, not for a general audience, and we stay in touch with each other quite well. What's more, our business in the classroom is seldom reflected in the writing we produce. (I'm speaking as a former teaching assistant and graduate student at the University of Virginia.)
The problem is that we bookworm types aren't really needed, in the classroom or anywhere else. Access to the province of "high culture," along with all the perks it represents, no longer requires a professor's tutelage. In this age of the Internet, you don't need a personal guide to read Chaucer, Shakespeare or Emily Bronte. Nor do you need to "understand" or "appreciate" them in any traditional sense to get along in the wider world.
In short, we have fallen victim to democratization. It's a development that the gatekeepers of culture ought to be overjoyed about, except, of course, that they'll have to look for other jobs for a while.
The pendulum may soon swing the other way, though. Lionel Trilling once proposed that the humanities be eliminated for a generation so that our appreciation for them could begin anew. The way I see it, we have about another 10 years to go.


Misreading the polls

The article "Pope urges 'diplomacy,' condemns war in Iraq" (World, Monday) falsely asserts, "Most polls show that roughly 60 percent of Americans favor military action." The opposite is true. Virtually all polls are showing that 60 percent to 65 percent of Americans oppose military action under the current circumstances. It is true that if a credible "smoking gun" were found in Iraq, or if the U.N. Security Council were to authorize military action, then the substantial majority of Americans would support military action. These are hypothetical situations, however. Today, as opposed to sometime in some hypothetical future, the majority of Americans do not support war.

Cupertino, Calif.

A pox on this vaccine

Yesterday's editorial on the administration's smallpox vaccination plan, "Smallpox refuseniks," failed to address the central issue: This is an inferior vaccine.
The vaccine was manufactured almost half a century ago by being inoculated onto cows and scraped off their dead hides. It therefore contains bovine proteins, as well as several antibiotics and additives, as preservatives. This accounts for a large proportion of the discomforting, if usually benign, allergic-type reactions. (The actual details of the process are no longer available, ensuring that the vaccine would never get Food and Drug Administration approval under normal circumstances.) The severe, sometimes fatal, side effects are well-known and attributable to this being a live virus without completely predictable effects.
Furthermore, President Bush's vaccination program does not provide any kind of logical protection against a smallpox outbreak, for which most experts recommend identification, quarantine and ring vaccination of contacts, not preemptive vaccination. Indeed, the health care personnel currently being vaccinated are unlikely to be the first clinicians seeing actual smallpox cases.
Moreover, it is riddled with bureaucratic holes, the most prominent of which is a lack of compensation for persons who suffer adverse effects.
Why should hospitals go along with a vaccination program that uses an inferior vaccine and does not provide adequate protection for a smallpox attack? As an infectious disease physician, I note that the main professional groups of both my specialty (American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine) and subspecialty (Infectious Diseases Society of America) have come out against widespread vaccination as envisioned in the president's plan. Several prominent smallpox researchers have expressed publicly their wariness of such an approach.
We should put this current plan in the wastebasket and insist on a crash program to develop and test a safe, alternative vaccine that all Americans can receive. In the absence of an imminent threat, we can wait until we get it right.

Infectious Diseases Unit
Gundersen Clinic
La Crosse, Wis.

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