Letters to the Editor – Weekly Issue of January 24, 2011

Reader write in about how to define Constitutional rights in America, the motives of suicide terrorists, and new ideas that require new light bulbs.

How to define 'rights'

In the Jan. 17 commentary "Do you have a 'right' to a job, home, or health care?," Mark Hendrickson's narrow view of "rights" fails to note that our founding documents suggest we have a right not only to "liberty," but to "life" and the "pursuit of happiness."

It is difficult for people to pursue happiness when access to education, health care, and housing are increasingly difficult to come by. Moreover, studies suggest that extremes of income inequality track with extremes in social dysfunction (i.e., high rates of violence, illness, divorce, etc.).

My "right" to live in a functional society would seem to conflict with Mr. Hendrickson's "right" to live in a banana republic, leading me to conclude that the subject of "rights" is way more complicated than Hendrickson would have us believe.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Kathe Geist

Brookline, Mass.

Motives of suicide terrorists

In his Dec. 13 commentary, "What really drives suicide terrorists?," Robert Pape makes the inference that suicide terrorism is a response to the occupation of the terrorist's actual or kindred homeland by a foreign power. He is probably right to suggest a link between territory and suicide terrorism.

Where Mr. Pape is on less firm ground, however, is in his argument that territoriality is the only significant explanation for suicide terrorism. Demonstrations of correlation are not evidence of causality.

Until he supplements his otherwise impressive analysis of archival data with interviews of likely terrorists, he will not know for sure what motivates them to give up their own lives in the process of killing others.

This poses implications for US policy that are more comprehensive than those suggested by Pape.

Dennis J.D. Sandole

Professor of conflict resolution and international relations,

Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution,

George Mason University

Arlington, Va.

New ideas, new light bulbs

Shouldn't your cover for the Dec. 27 issue, titled "How to Make the World a Better Place," have a fluorescent light bulb on the cover instead of an incandescent bulb?

The cover story was "How to make the world a better place in 2011: 25 ideas." A bulb that converts 95 percent of its energy into heat is a great symbol for waste, not a better world.

This would have been a great cover for the first decade of the 1900s, when the mythology of an unlimited resource supply with no consequence of use was alive and well. As they say, the "devil is in the details."

Deborah Bird

Pima Community College

Biology Department

Tucson, Ariz.

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