The Lincoln-Douglas debates ["Face the Nation"] show how trivialized American political discourse has become. Televised debates are little more than joint news conferences where questioners seem more interested in scandalmongering than in substantive issues. Let each candidate speak for 45 minutes on one topic—half the time allotted in 1860.
Malcolm G. Balfour,
Many thanks to Nakki Goranin for her quest to save and document old photobooth pictures, a form of Americana that brought so many people a bit of fun for pocket change ["Four for a Quarter"]. In looking through mementos of my father following his death, I discovered photobooth shots of him as a child—all his Depression-era parents could afford—that he never shared with his wife or children, including a picture of his mother against a fanciful backdrop. The shots of my parents in the days of Brylcreem and bright red lipstick reveal a level of intimacy that I never saw in person.
Asheville, North Carolina
I wonder if the editors are aware of a great irony in the September issue. The cover story "Victory at Sea" is about saving our oceans. The feature article "Macau Hits the Jackpot" is about destroying the environment out of greed; it includes such statements as "We had to create the land by moving three million cubic meters of sand from the Pearl River" and "The sea used to be here." If my thinking is right, these are not efforts to protect the ocean but, instead, to destroy it for the sake of casino corporations and the repressive Chinese government. Clearly, indulging the greed of a few will not help save the oceans.
Rebecca Sicree's complaint about her family's close encounter with Asian lady beetles [Last Page: "The Bugs Who Flew Too Much"] is a perfect example of humankind's disconnection with the natural world. I live in rural Oklahoma and every year we wait for the beetle hordes to arrive. It is a wondrous thing to see (seemingly) gazillions of them fractal-like on the walls of my studio and in our gallery. Lady beetle time is as close as we come to experiencing the migratory imperative that drives some species to collectively hit the road. Sucking them up in a Shop-Vac and shaking them out in the yard isn't a bad idea. But setting them afire is utterly mystifying. Shame on Smithsonian for publishing this decidedly unfunny account of uninformed parents acting on the kill-first impulse and sharing the experience with their impressionable children.
Jan Mohr Meng
Your story about the recent discovery of the remains of our first president's third residence, in Virginia ["Washington's Boyhood Home"], fails to mention the near loss of the site. Wal-Mart had planned to build a store on the land, but strong opposition by local residents in 1996 caused Stafford County to deny the company's application. The county then sold 36 acres to the association now known as the George Washington Foundation, forcing the store to be built a few miles away and enabling archaeologists to get down to work.
The genealogy essay "Clan-Do Spirit" was fascinating, but let's hope the author's Hebrew is better than his German. Jewish converts to Christianity who took the name "Friedenheim" were not referring to their freedom but to their peaceful house or home. Der Friede means peace or harmony, and das Heim means home. The German for freedom is die Freiheit.
Roger A. Horn
Salt Lake City, Utah