Air Piracy

To the Editors:

I'd like to point out some fallacies in Merril Goozner's article "Air Piracy" in your June 4, 2001, issue.

Consolidation of airline networks will increase passengers' ability to travel to a destination without changing airlines, a convenience that results in the increased savings that are associated with lower fares, greater frequent-flier benefits, reduced travel time, and the eliminated nuisance of multiple check-ins.

Fares have declined since deregulation. Between 1978 and 1999, the average revenue-per-passenger miles that an airline generated decreased in real terms. Since 1994 the average price of air travel, adjusted for inflation, has decreased 21 percent.

In terms of the United Airlines-US Airways merger, United currently has 170 domestic points; US Airways, 141.

If you combine the two airlines, you'll see 2,380 new domestic city pairs, plus minimization of productivity losses and elimination of multiple check-ins.

Captain Phil Gibson

US Airways Merrill Goozner Responds:

I don't know where the captain gets his numbers, but in its December 2000 analysis of the United-US Airways merger the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that 290 of the 380 markets served by the merged airlines--which would now control a staggering 25 percent of the U.S. market--would face "reduced competition." The GAO analyzed 5,000 city pairs served by the merged carrier. It concluded that only 65 such pairs with 2.9 million passengers would benefit from increased competition, while 126 with 6.9 million passengers would become dominated by the combined carrier.

Revenue-passenger miles are a nice measure of airline efficiency, but they tell us little about fares, which, as I pointed out in my article, depend on where and when you fly. Millions of leisure travelers have indeed experienced declining fares under deregulation, but millions of business travelers and residents of small city markets and dominated hubs have not. They routinely get gouged. Finally, as far as the hassle of changing airlines goes, what's the difference between that and a two-hour layover in a hub airport? I'll gladly exchange my frequent-flier miles for a direct flight.

Can America Age Gracefully?

To the Editors:

Your "Can America Age Gracefully?" issue [May 21, 2001] is one of the best treatments of the topic that I've seen in the press during my almost 30 years of aging with America.

The section's three articles provide the kind of personal impact and policy insight needed to begin moving this country out of its unique blindness to the vicissitudes of old age. Unlike any other advanced-economy nation in the world, the United States continues to practice what Steve McConnell of the Alzheimer's Association calls "diagnosis discrimination," protecting Americans from the visible effects of acute illness but turning its back on coverage for the debilitating ravages of chronic illness--which, like Alzheimer's or the aftermath of stroke, are often experienced out of sight. More coverage like yours will, I hope, eventually mean that the issues of long-term care will no longer remain out of mind in the world of policy making.

Paul Kleyman, Editor
Aging Today
San Francisco, CA

To the Editors:

Elizabeth Benedict's article on the growing senior population in the United States ["When Baby Boomers Grow Old," May 21, 2001] made me cry and decide that I couldn't afford to get any older. I'm moving to England!

Elena Uribe
Princeton, NJ

To the Editors:

A country that can go to the moon, build missile shields, and repeal the estate tax ought to be able to find a way to take better care of its needy senior citizens without warehousing them in facilities we call nursing homes. Hopefully, Elizabeth Benedict's article will bring the issue to the attention of the "right" people.

Jerome Caplan
West Hartford, CT

To the Editors:

Elizabeth Benedict's call to baby boomers to recognize the challenges they face as they grow older was commendable. However, she inadvertently misquoted me. Far from regarding America growing older as a "gerontocracy," I see it as a major human achievement. After all, 80 percent of Americans will still be under age 65. This is hardly a gerontocracy.

Robert N. Butler, M.D.
President, International Longevity Center
New York, NY

Elizabeth Benedict Responds:

Thank you for calling this error to my attention--I apologize for my misunderstanding. After revisiting my notes, I realize I accidentally expressed the idea of a coming gerontocracy as your own unvarnished comment rather than the misguided fear of others.

Kicking the Hobbit

To the Editors:

Chris Mooney presents a surprisingly well informed and unbiased look at what, for the academic literati, might be called "the Tolkien problem" ["Kicking the Hobbit," June 4, 2001]. The (fill-in-the-blank)-modernist circles of the well educated have (with a list of notable exceptions) found it difficult to understand J.R.R. Tolkien's enduring appeal for so many readers. No doubt, much of the "problem" involves the vastly different perspectives between the author and his critics. Tolkien--a devout Catholic, nearly radical environmentalist, linguistically inspirited mythologist and storyteller, and champion of the small and helpless against the more empowered forces in the world--may as well be from Mars in the context of modern academic prose. But as T.A. Shippey argues, Tolkien has distilled and embodied with mythos what has been an unexpressed sentiment within a large portion of humanity: a sentiment that something is terribly out of whack in modern society.

This in general terms explains his appeal, and while not a novel view, Tolkien embodies these perspectives, and champions elements of more ancient cultures that we have abandoned, in what is for many a seductive mythology.

It will be interesting in 200 years to see which works of art from the last century will still speak to readers and which will simply be studied for historical reasons. I would not be surprised to find many of academia's cherished texts gathering dust, while The Lord of the Rings (and perhaps samples of twentieth-century popular music) are still read and performed by a subpopulation. Mooney seems to knock Tolkien's entry into the "canon" as a result of popular momentum. But to my barbarian mind, at least, art that cannot speak deeply to a large segment of humanity hardly deserves the name at all.

Erec Stebbins, Ph.D.
New Haven, CT

Harnessing the Democrats

To the Editors:

Your April 23, 2001, issue was illuminating, interesting, and diverse--the article by Robert Dreyfuss, for example, on the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which has been progressive only by moving the party progressively away from democracy ["How the DLC Does It"]. In his analysis of why Gore lost, Dreyfuss correctly blames the candidate and his campaign, but the author's cavalier dismissal of Gore's appeal to old-fashioned liberal values disregards a key point. After his acceptance speech at the convention, Gore enjoyed his greatest popularity during the campaign. That was due not to his well-publicized buss of Tipper but to the message of his speech. Only when he began trimming his sails to appeal to those like Will Marshall and his ilk did Gore's numbers drop again.

If you want Democrats to remain interested in a candidate, that candidate needs to stand for what the party is supposed to believe.

Michael Green
Professor, Community College of Southern Nevada Las Vegas, NV