David Barsamian’s interview with Bill McKibben [“Tipping Point,” October 2019] paints a grim picture of the future. As the mother of a toddler, I feel sick when I think of the world our children will inherit.
I can remember only one time as a child when my family had to evacuate during hurricane season. In the past four years we have evacuated three times, with one storm significantly flooding our home. McKibben’s interview hits home for me, quite literally, and I feel more desperate than ever to turn my worries into action.
I’ve seen the winters of my youth disappear in one generation’s time. It seems we’re likely beyond the point where any measures we take can halt climate change. This will play out to its logical conclusion: the extinction of more and more species and ecosystems, and ultimately mankind. At that point the earth can heal herself without us.
Bill McKibben and a host of other writers surely know this, which raises the question: What’s the point of these articles?
Bill McKibben responds:
It’s good to question the point of articles like this. It’s possible all is lost and there is no point, but the best science indicates we still have a narrow window to make the changes that will perhaps slow global warming enough that our civilizations can muddle through.
That’s obviously not a rousing call, but it may be the greatest challenge humans have ever faced. And it’s why we build movements like the one I helped start at 350.org: to bring people together to make that happen. I’ve found that action is a plausible antidote to despair — at least, some of the time.
In the October 2019 Correspondence, Name Withheld canceled a subscription to The Sun because she or he was offended by the word fuck in Boomer Pinches’s short story “Drowning for Beginners” [August 2019]. It is a word. It carries the weight one lets it.
I was once outraged by such profanity. Now, as I approach my sixth decade, little offends me. I’ve lived through much worse, wrapped in the word love.
I tried to keep an open mind when reading Mark Leviton’s interview with Alex S. Vitale [“To Protect and to Serve?” September 2019], but I couldn’t stop hearing my father’s voice in my head, saying, “When you put a man in a uniform, he thinks he’s god.”
My dad was a World War II veteran and a corrections officer at a minimum-security prison in Upstate New York in the 1950s and 1960s. He knew about men who wear uniforms. One of the reasons he left that job was the godlike attitude of his colleagues — and these were people guarding the lowest-risk, pettiest criminals out there. He was appalled at the guards’ behavior, and he repeated his opinion about giving a man a uniform until the end of his life.
Has anyone ever really addressed what my dad said long ago? If so, I haven’t heard of it.
I agreed with many of Alex S. Vitale’s points on overpolicing, but he missed one crucial element: overzealous prosecutors.
I have been a criminal-defense attorney for more than twelve years, and I now see the system as an inmate. Throughout my career I have seen prosecutors overcharge defendants and then offer to reduce the charges to facilitate a plea bargain. Our system has become: presumed guilty until proven innocent. That is why we let police officers get away with malfeasance. Those are “bad guys” they’re dealing with.
Americans are bombarded by shows and movies about law enforcement catching the bad guys through any means necessary. Our society seems to have accepted the broad powers of prosecutors to bring whatever charges they want.
Despite my background as an attorney, I was scared into taking a plea bargain when a prosecutor threatened to overcharge me. Knowing my innocence, I regret that decision.
Alex S. Vitale responds:
To Name Withheld: When we tell people to use threats and coercion to control others, there will be violence, abuse, and corruption — regardless of the uniform. EMTs and firefighters wear uniforms, for instance, and it doesn’t have a negative effect on them or us.
To James Martin: A lot of great work is being done to rein in the power of prosecutors, and I support it. But no one gets prosecuted who hasn’t been arrested by the police, and policing in and of itself is a source of tremendous harm. It’s crucial that we focus on policing to prevent people from getting into the criminal-justice system in the first place.
I appreciated seeing through the eyes of a beat cop in Edward Conlon’s essay “Cop Diary,” written in 1997 and published in your September 2019 issue.
As a psychologist who works with elderly patients, I was sickened but not surprised by Conlon’s story about an older woman neglected and barely kept alive by her family, who were using her benefits for themselves. Conlon had trouble figuring out how to write up the misdemeanor complaint, finally settling on “endangering the welfare of an incompetent person,” and adding “investigate larceny.”
Thankfully there is now greater awareness of elder neglect and more laws to protect the vulnerable. Most abuse is perpetrated by family members — often without malice and out of desperation, ignorance, and scarcity. Scams and fraud are also a growing problem, with cases proliferating like fruit flies.
Every county has an Adult Protective Service that can be consulted by anyone, and information may be found at the National Center on Elder Abuse (ncea.acl.gov).
I was relieved to read that Saint James Harris Wood is finally being released from prison this coming January [“Stolen Time,” September 2019]. I have been following his writing in The Sun since 2005 — nearly the entire span of my own incarceration. Although my path through the Kafkaesque corridors of corrections has been different from Wood’s — most of my time has been spent in mental health, suicide cells, isolation, and worse — I always related to the stories he told.
Like the lifers Wood mentions in his essay, I also live in a state of optimistic denial. I find, however, that the lies we lifers tell ourselves are less bizarre than those told by almost everyone on the outside: that happiness and meaning can be acquired through the accumulation of things; that war is something on TV for which citizens bear no responsibility; that working eight hours a day until you’re sixty-eight is actually sane.
In the Readers Write on “Endurance” [September 2019], two people learned a similar truth: Ugandans say to L.D. that the way to endure is “slowly by slowly.” And Danielle Gaillard-Picher’s guide on a trek through Nepal advised that the way to survive is “bistari, bistari” — slowly but surely.
Many of us believe the way to achieve a difficult goal is to push hard with the end in mind. But maybe the secret is to focus on one thing at a time: each step, each moment, each breath.
As a boxer who trains at an inner-city gym, I was moved by Thom Goertel and Jim Kuhnhenn’s “Old School Boxing” photo essay [September 2019]. I identify with the dogged determination of the fighters pictured. The sport calls on the most basic of human instincts. You can feel this as you look into the eyes of a boxer who desperately wants victory, or from a coach who offers hope to those drowning in sorrow. Aren’t we all fighting something?
As the founder of a creative-writing workshop for inmates, I know the vicious cycle of crime and incarceration, and I applaud Old School Boxing owner and trainer Buddy Harrison for finding his way out of that life. His is a gym where hard knocks don’t define one’s outcome — a gym that gives many fighters a chance to heal.