Letters — From the May 2015 issue

Letters

Port Authority

Annie Murphy’s “The Day of the Sea” [Letter from La Paz, February] neglects to mention the Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed by Bolivia and Chile in 1904. This agreement normalized relations between the two countries twenty-one years after the War of the Pacific and provided Bolivia with some of the most favorable rights of transit of any nation in the world without a coast.

Under the treaty, Chile allowed Bolivia “the widest and freest right of commercial transit through its territory and Pacific harbors.” This freedom remains. Eighty-one percent of the cargo transported through Arica, a Chilean port, is Bolivian. Bolivian trade through Chilean ports increased from 1.2 million tons in 2009 to nearly 3 million tons in 2013.

For most Chileans, ceding territory would be akin to the U.S. government handing part of Texas or California back to Mexico. Across much of the world there are newer borders than those settled in 1904 — are they, too, up for redrawing? Moreover, any territory ceded to Bolivia along the Peruvian border would be subject to veto by Peru.

Bolivia’s claim to a Pacific coastline at the International Court of Justice postpones the ability of Chile and Bolivia to work together on a common future. Murphy’s article is a lyrical tribute to a sentimental version of a Bolivian past, but these neighboring, and complementary, economies need a clear-sighted vision that creates prosperity for Bolivians and Chileans alike.

Juan Gabriel Valdés
Ambassador of Chile to the United States
Washington, D.C.

Born Again

In “Giving Up the Ghost” [Essay, March], which discusses my work with children who report memories of previous lives, Leslie Jamison suggests in a footnote that the details of James Leininger’s case are “perhaps less persuasive than they seem at first glance.” She states that while James told his parents he had flown a Corsair, the pilot identified, James Huston, died in an FM-2. But the footnote fails to mention that earlier, Huston had been part of a squadron that tested the Corsair for the navy. Jamison also states that the crews of two other navy vessels included a Jack Larsen, as well as three other men with first names that James talked about. But those two vessels didn’t have the word “Natoma” in their names, the term that James gave that identified the U.S.S. Natoma Bay. With the details James provided, his statements could apply to one and only one person: the pilot James Huston.

I would dispute Jamison’s conclusion that James’s case — apparently along with the other 2,000 we’ve studied — involved only a few details from a child that seeded a much more elaborate tale as his parents tried to make sense of what was troubling him. I fail to see how the reactions of James’s parents could have led him to know numerous specifics about the life of a young man from across the country who died fifty years before James was born.

Jim B. Tucker
Associate Professor, University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Va.

All Eyes and Fears

I have worked for almost ten years in the retail industry, and my experience is that employers have a fundamentally hostile stance toward the people they’ve hired to carry out the day-to-day functions of their companies. My most recent employer, a regional department-store chain in the South, has implemented the workforce-management program Reflexis at most of its stores. I didn’t experience the wage theft described in “The Spy Who Fired Me” [Report, March], but I did experience something Esther Kaplan didn’t mention in her article: a loss of privacy.

Employees who needed time off for doctor’s appointments, I was told, were expected to say so explicitly. All of a sudden, my direct supervisor, who determines scheduling and job duties, knew who was seeking ongoing or frequent medical care. Is anyone looking out for employees’ privacy?

Theresa Brantley
Raleigh, N.C.

As a teacher in Massachusetts, I have witnessed a trend toward “accountability” prompted by Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, and the Common Core. Like UPS or Starbucks workers, teachers are now being electronically tracked by state education departments. Through PowerSchool, a program used for planning and grading, teachers are required to show that every lesson pertains to the assigned strand of the Common Core. If grades don’t meet expectations, teachers must provide research-based and data-driven strategies for improving them. In programs like TeachPoint, an elaborate, time-consuming self-evaluation, I have to provide evidence for twenty-five standards of instruction.

Teachers meet these new demands by disposing of creativity and flexibility. As a high school student, I wrote stories and plays in English class. Now kids learn to master the art of the state-mandated open-response question.

Charlotte Burns
Palmer, Mass.

The practice of workplace monitoring that Kaplan describes is the misbegotten human analogue of a manufacturing concept — the “just-in-time” (JIT) inventory system. JIT aims to eliminate inventory costs by arranging for assembly-line parts to arrive precisely as needed; workplace monitoring seeks to replicate JIT by having workers clock in when business picks up and clock out as soon as it slows. But minimum-wage workers are not brake shoes and windshield-wiper blades, and they regrettably lack the clout to negotiate a wage sufficient to compensate for the hassle and disruption of being at the beck and call of their shift supervisors.

Frank J. Bruni
Santa Rosa, Calif.

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