Good Writing Matters, Mr. President

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Re “It’s the Twitter Age. Let Trump Have His Way With Words,” by Farhad Manjoo (State of the Art column, Aug. 28):

It’s not as if Donald Trump is an articulate, thoughtful or composed person who just happens to make spelling errors on Twitter. That would be forgivable.

The problem is that his tweets are like a mirror held up to the inner workings of his mind: nonsensical, unintelligent, erratic and dangerous.

The end result is a barrage of tens of thousands of tweets going back almost a decade that are full of not just spelling errors, but also a cascade of other public embarrassments: one-word sentences that operate more like dog barks, poor word choices, odd (or missing) punctuation, factual mistakes and outright lies.

This is unforgivable for a president. End of story.

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Note: This appeared as a letter to the editor in The New York Times.

Reeling After the Orlando Massacre

Once again the United States needs to have a serious discussion about gun law reform. But in addition, there needs to be honest talk about the consequences of specific intolerant beliefs.

For example, the Charleston church shooting a year ago was fueled by an individual’s racist beliefs, so it was entirely appropriate for the national conversation to focus on the behavioral consequences of systemic and entrenched racism.

Similarly, after the countless Islamist terrorist attacks around the world — from Paris to Brussels to San Bernardino to Orlando, not to mention the daily atrocities in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere — it’s entirely appropriate to have a conversation about the behavioral consequences of specific religious beliefs.

Intolerant and illiberal doctrines related to martyrdom, blasphemy, honor and apostasy reliably lead to oppression and violence against women, homosexuals, freethinkers, liberals and even other Muslims.

An honest and mature public conversation about the consequences of specific beliefs, religious or otherwise, is not “Islamophobic,” nor is it bigotry against individuals as people. It is intellectual honesty. And, at this point, it’s also essential for the maintenance of civil society.

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Note: This appeared as a letter to the editor in The New York Times.

Nature is Enough

The Chirp Heard Across the Universe” (editorial, Feb. 16), about the recent discovery of the gravitational waves that were predicted by Einstein a century ago, asks, “Does science, or knowledge, really need a justification?”

The answer, of course, is no. But in a culture that has become saturated with the idea that only commercial value matters, we’ve become afraid of expressing an impulse as natural and basic as this.

Much like literature, music, philosophy and art, enjoyment of the natural sciences — and of nature itself — has intrinsic value. No further justification is required. Curiosity, wonder and beauty are enough.

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Note: This appeared as a letter to the editor in The New York Times.

Mixing Islam and politics

Re “How Politics has poisoned Islam” (Opinion, Feb. 4): Blaming “politics” for the conflicts we see around the Middle East and beyond is far too vague, simplistic and insufficient. It fails to explain the true nature of jihadist violence. Its root cause is an ideology that is steeped in theology, knows no borders, and extends across the entire socioeconomic spectrum.

Beliefs matter. When jihadists and their supporters tell us that they are compelled to act based on their beliefs about the metaphysics of Paradise, martyrdom, apostasy, blasphemy and honor we should take them at their word.

Countering jihadist violence requires intellectual honesty. Secular and moderate Muslims need to reform the faith by first being honest about the very doctrines that are in need of reform. They need to stand up for liberal and pluralistic values, not by obfuscating Islamist ideology, but by publicly acknowledging the central role that it plays in the worldview of the jihadists and their supporters. Furthermore, my fellow secular liberals must not conflate criticism of specific ideas with bigotry against people.

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Note: This was published as a letter to the editor in The New York Times.

An Exception in an Ugly World

Re “Meditations on the beautiful game” by Enrique Krauze (Opinion, June 12):

The late Christopher Hitchens once wrote: “Whether it’s the exacerbation of national rivalries … or the exhibition of the most depressing traits of the human personality (guns in locker rooms, golf clubs wielded in the home, dogs maimed and tortured at stars’ homes to make them fight, dope and steroids everywhere), you need only look to the wide world of sports for the most rank and vivid examples.”

There is more than a seed of truth to this. Soccer, however, and in particular the World Cup, is the exception. The “beautiful game,” like a work of art, contains an ineffable aesthetic and intrinsic quality for which the enjoyment of it requires no further explanation.

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Note: This appeared as a letter to the editor in The New York Times.

Climate Change: Science vs. Skepticism

Re “Is It Weird Enough Yet?,” by Thomas L. Friedman (column, Sept. 14):

Thomas L. Friedman is obviously correct to point out that Gov. Rick Perry’s and Representative Michele Bachmann’s views on climate change are wrong. But it’s clear that they won’t have their minds changed simply by showing them more scientific data or by explaining to them that 97 percent of the most published climate researchers — the group of people on the planet most knowledgeable about the subject — agree that human activities are causing rapid climate change.

The problem is that their denial of reality is a byproduct of a culture that marginalizes the scientific method as a way of thinking and promotes faith as a virtue, even if it is in direct opposition to the facts. Changing their minds about climate change will take more than presenting the evidence for it. It will require a seismic shift in the way they choose to understand reality.

Note: This appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the New York Times.