Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

In June 1995, I published An Auschwitz Alphabet. It was the sixth month of The Ethical Spectacle, I had two or three thousand readers a month (as opposed to 20-30,000 today), and I really had no idea what to expect. Since then, the Alphabet has accounted for about 40% of total Spectacle readership, has been assigned by teachers to classes at every level from grade school to adult, and has resulted in letters from all over the world.

In an essay entitled What I Learned From Auschwitz, I wrote that one of the things I derived from my readings was that God does not exist. I was not sure at first whether to include this conclusion in the essay, because I did not want to make faith the issue and alienate anyone who might otherwise learn about Auschwitz. Finally I included the thought because to leave it out would be dishonest.

Since then, I have received mail every month about the Alphabet; there are always several letters disagreeing (usually in extremely friendly terms) with my conclusion about God, and explaining how He could have permitted Auschwitz to happen. I realized some months after the Alphabet appeared that I would not be doing anyone a kindness to argue about God; I came to think of belief in Him as a benign meme, if coupled with humility and tolerance. Some of my correspondents have offered to pray for me-an irresistible offer on the theory that prayer may not require my belief in it to be effective!

I live for your email. I can be reached as always at jw@bway.net.

Words, Words, Words

Dear Jonathan: You wrote


Writing is a form of action. If you hold a beautiful idea up in public, people will attach themselves to it. If your idea is powerful enough, keep holding it up, for years and years. Good ideas tend to win in the end. Martin Luther King said, "The arc of history bends towards justice."

Some days I'm less than willing to believe that, Doctor King.

Writing is also the evasion of action. Those who write feel they have done enough, and dispense themselves from doing. There is no form of words which makes as powerful a statement as that of placing your body in danger to communicate an idea. Gandhi said, 'We must be the change we wish to see in the world.' He didn't say, we must write about it.

Yes, I like this. Can there be a Spectacle article on trees we've planted (figurative and literal)? I think I could see some good pieces coming of that.

The oaks I planted about 6 years ago are becoming really beautiful, as well as useful (they're on a property line which includes a rotting fence).

I liked Seth's piece, his defining of the terms of the debate early on was well done, and while I may have a ton of different reasons, I agree with him here.

Jim Ray jmr@shopmiami.com

Dear Jonathan:

You wrote:

If you hold a beautiful idea up in public, people will attach themselves to it. If your idea is powerful enough, keep holding it up, for years and years. Good ideas tend to win in the end.

Great thought - an essential optimistic Liberal perspective.

Thank you for keeping up the good work.

Don't always agree with you, and some of your contributors would be off the spectrum on this side of the Atlantic, but always worth reading!

John Tilley johntilley@cix.compulink.co.uk

Dear Jonathan:

I've been away, preoccupied, distracted... I've missed some of the past few months of the Spectacle. Your April issue reminds me of where I started with you about a year ago, on: "hope, self-deception, the idea of freedom of speech, the Prisoner's Dilemma and the tragedy of the commons." These are the important issues to me... Timely, Necessary, and Important!

The Spectacle is a great book. One of the "Great Books of the Western World," if you ask me. Remember those? Your book needs to be more widely disseminated. The fact so few apparently read is a challenging issue... Is it time, perhaps, for a movie, or something? Has Stephen Spielberg heard of you, yet?

That, as you say, language is (could be?) a "spandrel" of the mind caps it. I recently told Richard Thieme he takes the prize for his "Imaginary Gardens" daily letters. (They are just the right size for daily consumption. Short and to the point.) But your monthly collection of words and ideas in THE BOOK of the Spectacle, toward progress in human evolution, with liberty and justice for all, etc, is truly inspirational and everlasting! (It is all those things, right?) You include Richard Thieme in your work, along with a host of others... that's especially good.

So, thanks again, Jonathan, for your efforts. "I am a regular reader of the Spectacle" and I love it! I hang on (almost) most of your words...

I agree you should separate fact from fiction. Too much "real" stuff to do, "real" problems to solve, etc, gets confusing. It's too hard to keep track of what's going on in fact, much less fiction...

Best Regards, Happy Easter

Ken Smet Ken_Smet@FlaSuncoast.Net

Hello Sir:

I stumbled across your page as an addendum to an article on the ACLU's page on a Appeal Court proceeding regarding censorship software for public libraries.

Exploring the site, I was at first encouraged, then overwhelmed by the volume and depth of the writing. I have no formal education from which to draw on in my evaluation, but the themes and style of your work are well designed and beautifully crafted.

Your article on hypertext as a tool for fictional writing brings to mind a novel by Issac Asimov, "...The Gods Themselves". I think it represents another example of a tripolar fiction, exploring the same events from the perspective of three alien viewpoints.

I understand you have many e-mails from more learned readers, but I would like to add my little squeak to the cacophony encouraging you to continue. I hope you enjoy writing as much as I enjoy reading your work.

Yours truly

Steven J McArthur stevem4@uniserve.com


Dear Ethical Spectacle:

I am currently pursuing a master's degree in info resources/library science at the University of Arizona. As part of a class assignment, I am compiling a pathfinder (research guide) on the issue of Internet filtering in libraries and schools.

I would like to include a link to your site in the pathfinder. Please let me know if I have your permission to do so. Also, I would appreciate any information that is not included in your site: press releases, position statements, etc.

Thank you for your attention to this request.

Elizabeth Cuckow

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thanks for What Censorware Means to Me.

Your thoughts are beautiful, meaningful, and deeply appreciated.

U.S. Citizen living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where the suppression by the provincial language police is driving us to move from Quebec. As a result, your words are especially meaningful to us.

Gene Gaines

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am very glad you have been looking in to this matter. I have a site in geocities WestHollywood/ heights the url is Http://www.geocities.com/WestHollyWood/Heights/2635/index.html. I was outraged to discover that my friends on aol cannot access my site..... I wonder if the notorious hate group "The Christian Coalition" has a foot hold in the cyber patrol group.... Please let me know if you have any information regarding this....has anyone considered pushing for legislation requiring that these censorship groups notify the sites that they block and allowing people who are interested in using there program access to the database so that they can decide if it is the proper program for their needs????

Erica epelz @neo.lrun.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Hi - enjoyed your web site and will sign on to one of the lists. My organization, Northern Virginia Citizens Against Censorship, is closely watching the internet censorship issue. We deal with public library censorship issues mainly in Fairfax County (and Alexandria and Arlington), just outside of D.C. Fortunately, we do not have the same problems Loudoun County does, as the Fairfax Library Board rejected internet filters a few months ago. However, the founder of "Family Friendly Libraries" lives in Fairfax, and is constantly trying to push her censorship agenda here, so we have to stay on our toes.

I will put your journal's site in NOVACAC's next newsletter/mailing. We have about 900 members, and I think they would be very interested.

Thanks for your work!

Valerie Eastwood veastwoo@PGFM.com
Northern Virginia Citizens Against Censorship

Dear Mr. Wallace:

before going to college, i never really gave the subject of censorship of the internet much consideration. last fall i began my freshman year at samford university, a small baptist liberal arts college in birmingham, alabama. it was the first week of school and i was getting my computer up and running with the university's internet server. to my surprise, a net block was used to keep out any "unchristian" viewpoints. it became such a pain trying to do research for papers because, much like cyberpatrol, it blocked completely unrelated web pages. this problem irked me enough to join aol. i am now doing a position paper on internet regulation, and i just wanted to let you know that your site has proved to be an outstanding addition to my list of resources. thank you for caring enough to take action against this form of injustice.

charlie patterson Nachur man Nachurman@aol.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Don't know what all the fuss is about Cybersitter. It seems to me it is just one program that is doing this. So if you don't like it....then don't buy it.

To me, it seems it would be a program that would iterest the majority of people who don't want their children to follow a path of moral decay. I will be sure to recommend it to those with that belief.

Bob Smith rsmithnc@interpath.com

An Auschwitz Alphabet

Dear Jonathan,

I haven't had a chance to look over your entire website yet,(I will be back when I get more time) something that I happened to think of (concerning people who think certain races are inferior...etc) as you can see from my last name it is of German origin. My family has been in the U.S. since the early 1800's. In the American Civil War my Grt.Grt. Grandfather was drafted (the Fed. Army) and because he was German, was placed in the 11 Corps, the 11th was put together for all the men of German heritage, because frankly the Americans didn't like them and wanted to be seperated from them! Also, they were held back and not given the opportunity to prove themselves and because of several "mishaps" most Federal troops labled them as "cowards". the reason? When the 11th was involved in one of the early battles of the war, they decided to move the 11th North of the main camp (to keep them out of the way) it was near evening and the 11th had stacked their muskets in "bundles" near some woods as was the usual way to store arms for the night. Stonewall Jackson's mounted cavalry moved through the woods and charged the 11th (who of course was unarmed!) so the men high-tailed it South towards the main Federal camp where a battery was turned around and finally stopped the charge. After the battle (many of the 11th Korps were killed) the "normal" Federal troops called them cowards! Then, during the Gettysburg campaign the 11th was moving North of the city, unaware that the Rebels were in the town and was attacked by another Rebel cavalry unit and was driven back into town! Again, they were branded cowards because they ran! Anyway, to make a already long story a bit shorter, my Grt. Grt. Grandfather was wounded and captured, he died the next day.

The point of all this is, isn't it funny how people can find reasons to hate a group of people just because they have "different" names or talk a little different? I guess it doesn't matter what colour the skin is, if some group chooses to hate for whatever reasons....they don't really need a reason!

Sorry for the rambling...it's late! Good luck on your website.

Phillip Obenour obie@doitnow.com

Dear Sir,

I am pleased to inform you that our school I.T.C "Gino Zappa" Saronno - Italy has used your Web site for publishing of the Proceedings of the Symposium on P.Levi "In memory of P.Levi: the Dignity of Man". Your Web site has been very helpful and I congratulate on your excellent work.

Yours sincerely
Mrs.Bianca Maria Pace

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I have read your "Alphabet" from start to finish. It was very well done. Thank you. I do say this, there are several places in it I find disquieting. Not for the ugliness of Auschwitz, but for some blanket statements you, yourself made. It may be because I am a gentile, and not a jew that these statements bothered me. All in all, I think you did a remarkable job.

Gaylene Orr normaod@email.msn.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I found 'An Auschwitz Alphabet' a great source of information about the Holocaust. We are studying the Holocaust in school, and right now we are learning about the death camps. It will help me a lot with my final report. Thanks!

Jessica Giarrusso, age 12, NY

Jessica later wrote:

Dear Mr Wallace:

I greatly disagree with the author of 'An Auschwitz Alphabet' when he states that there is no God. There is a God. God does not control the minds of people on earth, certainly not Hitler, (who, in my opinion, was not even human) so HITLER is responsible for the Holocaust, not God. God 'permitted' the Holocaust to teach the world a valuable lesson, not to look down laugh at the horrible crime Germany was committing. May it never happen again.

Jessica Giarrusso, age 12

Dear Mr. Wallace:

hi i am in 8th grade and we r learning about the holocaust and we had to do a project. your abc book gave us great ideas to what really went on during that time. thanks for publishing this book.

brittany ps write me back if u have time! i would love to hear what u think.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Hey this page (Auschwitz alphabet) is really cool. It was informative = and interesting.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

excellent page very well done

I am appaled at the things that happened. As you say the average guy does not know what happened.

thanks for your efforts

"steve lazeroff lazeroff@netacc.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Hi! I'm really glad that you made the Auschwitz Alphabet. I'm not Jewish, but I am doing a research paper on the Jewish Holocaust. Your information helped me so much and I'm very greatful to you!


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am an alternative high school teacher in Minnesota. (I teach students at risk for dropping out for whatever reason) I have been teaching a unit on the Holocaust in my social studies and English classes. It is depressing for me to research this topic, like you said in your page, if you dive into it, you wind up wanting to kill yourself. I just wanted to write and thank you for all the information in your website. The site has been a tremendous help in cross-checking facts, and for the details of what life was like in Auschwitz and other camps. I have been trying to focus my teaching of this subject on the victims, and survivors, instead of on the statistics, and cruelties. I want to the students to understand that it was real people, who felt things the same way they do, that suffered such unbelievable horrors. Today we read "What I learned from Auschwitz" as a class. I happen to agree with most of your points and you have given my students and I many ideas for discussion. I especially like what you said about all of us being capable of genocide, and if we think we aren't, we are doomed to be a part of it. (forgive my paraphrasing) That struck a cord with the kids. Thank you for that. I would love to have a discussion with you about your view that there is no God. I am not a religious person, but I have some ideas of my own on this topic. Anyway, Thank you again for your page. I really appreciate it.

Sarah Lindahl sarah_lindahl@litchfield.k12.mn.us

Dear Jonathan,

After reading your piece on the net, I was blown away by your insights. The horrors of the holocaust haunt me even though the closest I've ever gotten to it was in print. I remember my father taking me to a barber many years ago and asking the man what those numbers were on his arm. He looked at me and then glanced at my dad with sad eyes. Years later, as I rethink that moment, the man's eyes were saying, thank G-d you never had to endure the pain of wearing this faded blue ink. Sure, I've known those that survived. I've heard the stories. I'm not writing this to ad to what has been written, just to acknowledge what you wrote. And to that end, I concur, and quote; "To forget the past is to repeat it again". Thank you for never letting anyone forget.


Marty Gorelick tinker93mm@sprintmail.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I came across your web site as I was researching for my Jewish History class paper. I did learn a lot as I read though the topics. I was sad to read about what you thought about God, though. I am sure you have received many letters telling you that GOd does, in fact, exist. I am not a radicalist nor a Bible thumper, but I am a Christian and am sad for you because you do not belive in God. I know your mind is made up and you have convinved yourself that what you belive is true and backed up from evidence. I just wanted to let you know, that GOd does exist and although awful, unexplainable things happen, He does care.

Satan is the ruler of the earth we live in and he is in control of human actions. That is the best explanation behind the Holocaust and awful things that happen on this earth. Jesus, GOd's son did live on earth many years ago and He died for us so that we may have a better place to live after we die, Heaven. He is the ruler of that world and there we will know no pain or hurt or se any evil or mass killings.

I don't know me, but I will pray for you just the same. I know Christians tend to make themselves out to be the holy ones and to be better than everyone else. I am no better than anyone else, I just have something a lot of them don't and that is a relationship with Jeus Christ. I pray that someone will come into your life to challenge your beliefs as I have had people do to me. Your work is good and I hope that your beliefs will change and you will accept the truth that there is a God and He cares a great deal for you and for me and for everyone on this earth. We are His chosen people and He has a place we will go to when we die if we belive in Him. Until then we will jsut have to deal with all the awful things this world posesses.


Kristin Brewer c690767@showme.missouri.edu


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Greetings and salutations,

I must admit I kind of backed in to your "Ethical Spectacle." Let me try to make a long story short: I was in GeoCities looking up links to "Vampires" I can't justify why, mind you. I like to believe we all have silly things we hold dear, "fantasies" if you will, like collecting dolls, Star Trek, etc...(things of no real importance, just crutches for our minds to fall back on when life is less than interesting) Vampires happen to be mine. As I said I can't justify why. Anyway, I happened upon a review of "Interview with the Vampire" from May of 1995 and reading it kind of got my blood pumping (bad analogy?). I immediately wanted to E-mail the author and ask them where they got off! So I went to your site. I read your mission statement. I read your brief autobiography. I feel I should apologize for the feelings I had toward you after reading your movie review. I find your words moving and I believe I'll check out this site again in the near future to see what else you've come up with to get my blood pumping. I believe it was Voltaire who said "I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it," and on that note I salute you sir, keep up the good work!

But you want to know the real punch line? I didn't even like the movie in the first place. I do admit to liking the book, though parts of it made me uncomfortable. I did possess a book by Anne Rice written before "Interview" which after getting a couple chapters into I gave to a friend (a bigger Rice fan) because I felt it was too "pornographic." In retrospect I feel quite silly, again I apologize.

Let me say I expect no reply, just felt you deserved some feedback from a "convert." I look forward to your future writings, especially on the subject of firearms (you eluded that it was a subject you were considering for future newsletters). Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your work.

Rod Zirkle c725100@showme.missouri.edu

Dear Jonathan,

I found Carl Pope's letter(1) on 'takings' interesting. He has some valid points, but I think he also overlooks some important distinctions.

Under this radical takings doctrine, if two of us own parcels across a creek, and every winter the creek rises and floods half of our yards, I have a right to fill my parcel so that all of yours floods next winter. This is my right, and you have no right to prevent me. But if you go the county Board of Supervisors, and ask them to enact a wetlands ordinance, one that prevents me from filling all of my yard, in order to protect half of yours, I have suffered a taking, and must be compensated. Under their rules, government would have to pay to the regulated far more than the regulations cost.

It may be that the Republican extremists have tried to distort the "takings" clause to this meaning, but I think there is a meaningful use that would apply to "takings" that are less than "denying the owner of any economic use". See below.

And I think most of us with libertarian leanings(2) are not concerned with the application of existing zoning laws but with what is sometimes called 'downzoning', in which the allowable use of land is restricted in a way that wasn't contemplated when the land was purchased.

Imagine that there is a market for a fast food restaurant on my block but zoning regulations do not permit it. Imagine under these proposals that I am denied my right to build a drive through burger joint on my property outside your living room and that the franchiser would have paid me $50,000 to build it. I am turned down and then am able to collect $50,000 in compensation from the county. The franchiser then offers his proposal to the couple across the street. The city rejects their variance as well. The taxpayers fork up another $50,000.

This is a nonsensical interpretation, as Carl noted. But let me a less radical interpretation. Let's assume that I own a piece of land currently worth $100,000, which I originally bought for $50,000. When I bought it, it was zoned for commercial use, so I had a reasonable expectation that I might be able to someday sell it for use as a restaurant -- including a drive-through burger joint. Now the county tells me I cannot make that use of it.

So let's go back in time, and assume that the property had been zoned for "any commercial use except drive-through restaurants". (Or more realistically, given the concerns that drive land-use restrictions, "any commercial use except a fast-food restaurant or mini-mall"). Obviously, I would have paid slightly less for it, knowing that my future uses were to be restricted. But probably not very much less. So, let's assume the fair market value when I bought the land would have been $49,000 instead of $50,000 - a loss of $1,000 many years back.

To turn that into a "net present value", probably the simplest method is to multiply that loss by the increase in the land's value since I bought it. So multiply $1,000 by ($100,000 / $50,000) to get a current "loss" of $2,000 instead of $50,000.

You see the logic. The same "loss" can be suffered time and time again although the market would have supported only one such drive through window. The only end to this hemorrhage of public dollars? Build one neon restaurant on every block with the profits flowing to the greediest neighbor or the one who most dislikes his neighbors.

Yes, the "loss" can be "suffered" by multiple landowners, but now that we've reduced it to a more reasonable value, mightn't it be appropriate for the county to pay for that reduction in the value of the land?

Btw, if you don't like the 'go back to the past' method, you can also do something similar in the present time. The landowner's loss is not the $50,000 the franchiser would have paid him. It is the difference in the value of the land before the restriction (all possible uses, including the fast-food franchise) and the value of the land with the restriction (all uses except the forbidden one).

I personally prefer the 'backwards in time' approach, even though it is more complex, because I think it more fairly computes the real loss (And in general it will result in a lower calculated loss.) If I bought the land two years ago, I probably included a fast-food franchise among the possible uses and should get close to the "current value" method. But if I bought the land 80 years ago, I probably never heard of such a thing as a fast-food franchise, so it would have only a minimal effect on the fair-market value back then -- and I would claim that the true loss suffered is the Net Present Value of the amount I 'overpaid'(3) for the land back when I bought it.

Finally, let me add that there are other considerations than simple zoning which may restrict the use of land. Any use which constitutes a 'nuisance' in the traditional sense might be enjoined by the courts -- or require a payment of damages to neighbors for their own loss of property value.

And in general I see nothing wrong with requiring compensation for what economists call 'externalities'. Dumping industrial waste in a river lowers the value of all riparian land downstream -- and all land whose drinking water is drawn from that river. Payment for that is appropriate, IMO. Likewise for throwing garbage into the air, which lowers the value of all the land in the area.

This would have at least two useful effects:

. an economic incentive to accomplish whatever productive ends you have in mind in the least polluting way - and/or to get the most productive use out of a given amount of pollution.

. compensation to those actually affected by the pollution.

Btw, pollution is a particularly tough subject in libertarian debate. (Not to be confused with the pro-big-business version of coming out of the "Contract With America" Republicans). I've heard libertarians claim that pollution does not violate anyone's rights. This is manifest nonsense, unless you are a pure LeFevrist(4). I don't have a right to stand on my property and shoot bullets across the boundary at you -- or even at random. But the interesting_question is where to draw the line. Does light pollution violate anyone's rights? An astronomer would think so. So might someone who used to be able to leave his curtains open but now has to put in light-proof shades if he wants to sleep at night. But someone who already uses darkening shades to keep his bedroom dark might not notice if you added a searchlight or some such. But even he would object if you put in some monstrous multi-kilowatt laser. It's the same thing -- visible light -- but the intensity/amount matters.

A similar argument applies for gaseous pollutants. Emitting cyanide in the multiple parts-per-million concentration would be an obvious violation -- it's poisonous. But what about smaller concentrations that might not even be noticed? At what level should hydrocarbon emissions be considered a violation? What about carbon dioxide? Is the CO2 I breathe out a violation?

You see the problem. It's non-trivial.

Barry Gold barry@troy.la.platsol.com


(1) "reprinted" in the Ethical Spectacle, January, 1996

(2) Those who support the "takings" concept probably lean towards the libertarian, as I do. (Note the small-l libertarian). Of course the land-use extremists like Gingrich would probably like to see the more extreme interpretation put on the takings clause, but I don't think the general public would/will support them. Which is why attempts to enact a federal takings rule have generally floundered.

And I suspect most states that have enacted radical takings laws will end up repealing or modifying them, precisely because they are unworkable.

(3) based on my mis-assumption that I could put it to any commercial use.

(4) An odd branch of libertarianism that eschews not only aggression but also the use of violence in self-defense. That is, you have no right to shoot someone merely because he is threatening you with a gun. It is up to you to wear a bulletproof spacesuit to protect yourself.

Carl Pope replies:

Well, just to comment briefly, you have articulated a possible interpretation of the 5th amendment, one, however, that is dramatically different than the various pieces of takings legislation which have recently been offered in the Congress.

My speech was directed at these radical approaches, and properly constructed, I find much appealing in what you have offered. So we may not disagree fundamentally, but may both disagree with the legislation that is floating around these days.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

As someone active in the area of freedom of speech, you may wish to support our online petition to the British Government regarding the democratic deficit which prevents residents of Gibraltar voting in EU elections.

The analogy would be that a small town in America would have no say whatever in election of your President.

The full details of the issue are described on the online response form, and any assistance you can give in publicising this would be most appreciated.

see: http://www.gibnet.com/support.htm

Jim Watt jimwatt@pobox.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

May I respectfully suggest that you examine the detailed and scholarly treatment of the Deir Yassin allegations to be found on the Zionist Organization of America website, www.zoa.org, I believe. If you are indeed an ethical observer you will find much to disconfirm your beliefs regarding this event.

As Morton Klein so ably proves the Deir Yassin allegations of atrocity are false. Their dissemination is a function of British and Arab propaganda aided and abetted by internal Labor vs. IZL political conflicts.

I may be a skeptic but I doubt that you will change your views or offer any equally compelling factual basis for continuing your calumnious conduct. Your sources are not based upon reliable first hand witnesses or credible historiographically sound research.

A lie repeated ad nauseum does not a truth make.


An Ethical Observer

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Hello, My name is Chelsea Bell. I live in Holcomb Ks.( the Clutters Murder "In Cold Blood"). Anyway, I was looking for some info. on the Kent State University shooting in 1970. With the four students that were killed in a protest. I was wondering if you could send me some info as soon as posable (4/29/98).

Thank you ever so!

Chelsea Bell