A great man
It was perhaps natural for Marc Eisen to imagine I would be against naming a school after Vang Pao ("Vang Pao, Drugs and the CIA," 5/11/07). My revelations about Vang Pao's use of power in Laos might be interpreted as moral condemnation. [The writer is author of Harvesting Pa Chay's Wheat: The Hmong and America's Secret War in Laos.]
But when I wrote about Vang Pao's uses of power, I did so as a scholar and political scientist interested in discovering how he united the Hmong under one banner in a common cause. They are an independent-minded people and difficult to lead. His achievement was impressive.
On the other hand, I was openly critical about Vang Pao's leadership in America. Of course, I had the luxury of retrospection. The truth is Vang Pao did the best he could, given his understanding and talents. Let me be blunt: I do not think it is fair to disqualify Vang Pao because, by current standards, he may have abused power.
How many schools are named for General Sherman, the Civil War hero? Yet Sherman's famous scorched-earth march to the sea would today be a war crime. There is a grand monument to Thomas Jefferson. Yet Jefferson was the first president to usurp the Constitution and take us to war without the approval of Congress. His chiseled words say all men are equal. And still he had slaves.
What is the truth about Vang Pao? He is the greatest Lao general of modern times. He was fearless and brilliant in the field. In Laos, and then in America, he dedicated his life to the Hmong people.
Do the Hmong have a right to be proud of this man? You bet they do. As an American, I am proud that Vang Pao has made America his home. He is a great man. Period!
Susan Kepecs cites a "shocking" statistic that a book reviewed in The New York Times may sell 5,000 or 10,000 copies, suggesting that there are only that many "committed readers" left in America ("The Book's Next Chapter," 4/20/07).
Mr. Kadushin cynically sniffs that this doesn't even "qualify as a fetish anymore."
I'm also concerned about the fate of literacy. But this statement's logic suggests that a committed reader would have to read every book that sells in that range. This statistical spin is cultural fear-mongering.
Do voracious readers like me read each book that sells 5,000 to 10,000 copies? Of course not, because there's an embarrassment of riches, many of which sell less, or more.
Worse yet is Kadushin's insufferably snooty comment, "nobody can distinguish between the crappy blog and a serious book anymore." Even Holden Caulfield didn't make such sweeping dismissals of society.
Such moaning tends to cause people to throw up their hands over America's apparently worsening literacy, a serious problem for sure.
Still, the Internet is compelling certain literacy. And the cream of writers and readers will rise. People will never completely forsake a beautifully crafted and written book in one's hand, savored in an easy chair.
Susan Kepecs' article made some interesting points about the future of publishing. But it would have been nice if the author respected her subjects enough to allow for a real dialogue, instead of offering an artificial debate that pitted essentially like-minded people against one another.
In fact, although we're presented, very weirdly, as adversaries, I agree with most things Dean Bakopoulos is quoted as saying. There are, as he stresses, plenty of good things online, and Salon.com is as good as any print magazine and better than most.
The issue, for me, isn't the Internet itself or technology. What I care about is the quality of the writing regardless of the format. And the fact is - and this is where I do disagree with other subjects profiled in the piece - I don't think most people are reading Salon.com when they go online.
What most people read - at least based on the number of reported clicks per site - are a grab bag of lists, blogs, fragments of texts, and fragments of fragments. That's part of a general cultural drift away from dealing with a complete, substantial text that explores an issue or idea or emotion in all its depth and complexity.
If we're increasingly reading captions, gossip and wisps of text, our sense of the world itself gets dumbed down, and our ability to think in a profound way - a way that can deal with ambiguity and layers - gives way to the Bush years we enabled.
Ultimately, if the Internet does overtake print culture, the issue isn't just how we read but what we will be able to read. A recent national meeting of newspaper editors underscored a point no one wants to hear. Most of the editors agreed that they didn't really care that much about what format their newspapers ultimately took.
What they did care about was this: When they do go entirely online, there won't be the funds to employ anywhere near the current number of working journalists and serious investigative reporters. If the lack of a fully critical media allowed the current regime, it's scary to consider what will come when what passes for news will be a collective trough fed by a few syndicates and monopolies, and a vastly reduced corps of actual reporters.
Raphael Kadushin Senior acquisitions editor University of Wisconsin Press
Susan Kepecs replies: In his interview with me, Kadushin said not one word about Salon.com or "plenty of good things online." The quotes I used were verbatim. If Kadushin was misrepresented, it is his own fault, and his own misrepresentation of his opinion on the topic.
Did anyone else catch the irony? Isthmus runs a lengthy feature lamenting the declining popularity of books, but in the same issue the Words section of The Guide listings quietly discloses that it no longer lists in print, but only online, the many local library used-book sales.
The latter, besides being fund-raisers for the libraries, are one of the best opportunities Madisonians have to take a chance on new books inexpensively and perhaps discover or renew a literary interest. And as Ms. Kepecs' story made clear, not every book person is into the Web.
John L. Gann Jr.