Jacob Weisberg, Manhattan
Taki replies: In my opinion, Weisberg did minimize that subject. The day I apologize to a midget like Weisberg, pigs will fly.
East Side Co-Op Bored I'm getting really sick of Taki's myopic view of life. Why should we have to be bored by this fucking Upper East Sider's rants anymore?
Banafsheh Zand, Brooklyn
It's Jake by Matt Taki: A superb commentary on the "blacklisted" Hollywood Stalinists. Long overdue. Kudos to Taki for writing it and to New York Press for publishing it.
Matt Anger, Chester, VA
Facts? Huh? Fax? Flacks? Like so many of your writers, Taki cannot be bothered with the facts. The House Un-American Activities Committee is the one that worried about concealed communist messages in Hollywood writers', directors' and composers' products. Its early chair was Martin Dies.
The Senate (a different legislative body, Taki) had McCarthy to thank for his interest in policy subversion in the State Dept. and other government agencies. HUAC's goings-on were in the 1940s, McCarthy's in the 1950s. Hey, fellas: You need that factchecker you've been advertising for.
Ross Willett, Manhattan
Yeah, Yeah Taki: While I agree with your views on Vanity Fair's treatment of Hollywood's blacklisted commies, it would strengthen your case if you got certain fundamental facts straight. The "committee hearings of Sen. Joe McCarthy" had nothing to do with the congressional investigation of Red Hollywood. As you yourself say, a few sentences later, it was the House Un-American Activities Committee?the House, not the Senate. Sen. McCarthy did not jump on the communism issue until early 1950. He then focused on communists in the State Dept. and in the armed forces. McCarthy had nothing to do with the Hollywood case(s).
I'm telling you this largely because your critics on this issue might jump on the factual error to discredit your larger point(s), which are most important and need to be talked about more often.
Keep up the good fight!
Michael Chapman, Maurertown, VA
Okay, Okay Matt Zoller Seitz ("Keith Gordon," 3/22) credits Keith Gordon as the writer of The Chocolate War. It's actually based on an excellent novel by Robert Cormier. (Guess that's why y'all are advertising for factcheckers.)
Kate Hambrecht, Brooklyn
Okefenokee Press MUGGER: You and your crowd of excellent writers can't understand how much your efforts are valued out here in the boonies. There is life on Earth?it's just a shame that one must live in New York to write about it. Why not move the whole hive to a better climate?
If Hillary Clinton wins, she's going to ban your asses anyway.
A.H. Watson, Holden Beach, NC
It's the South Slope Andrey Slivka: You're such a self-hating liberal, feeling guilty for black misbehavior, as in your 3/22 "New York City" article. Why aren't you living in Harlem or Bed-Stuy instead of Park Slope?
It is blacks, not whites, who harm the black community with crime, drugs, teen births, absentee fathers. As long as blacks scapegoat white America for all their problems, their problems will continue.
Name Withheld, Manhattan
Unitarian, Bob? I am stunned that New York Press printed Andrey Slivka's offensive and racist attempt at social commentary last week.
Slivka hits on one truth in his article: there is no easy way out of the "American nightmare" of racism, as much as we liberal white folks may want there to be. However, the one sensible (if obvious) sentence is drowned in ignorant screed. Slivka praises the honesty of one black speaker who proclaimed his "serious doubt" that there are any good white people, and another who says racism "is a European axiology." Meanwhile, he ridicules the white questioner who asks, quite sensibly, what should white people do?
An article about liberal white do-gooder churchgoers failing to understand racism could have been funny, but it was not. It could have been incisive, but it was not. It could have been moving, but it was not. Slivka bungled every angle on this story.
Slivka is right that there's no easy way out of racism. But there's an easy way to make it worse, and he's doing a fine job.
Robert Lane Greene, Brooklyn
Moron? He's Got a High School Diploma! Andrey Slivka ("New York City," 3/22) is some kind of moron, writing ridiculous charges against the Unitarian Church membership and the rest of Brooklyn Heights.
Slivka knows nothing about Brooklyn Heights, so he aligns himself with loud yellers who also know nothing.
I reside in Brooklyn Heights. I have myriad black and other neighbors, and we are all friends. The Heights has a history of political savvy going back more than 150 years. I am not a European. I am an American going back three generations. I don't wear flapping sandals and I never say "by gum."
Slivka lies, and has a mind, if any, that is closed. I guess you hired him because it is hard to find people dumb enough to write for your rag.
The "extreme radicals" quoted by Slivka were trying to create a dialogue, and this was well-understood by those present. Slivka exposes his own anti-black prejudice by portraying them as "crazies" who frighten white people.
Get lost, Slivka. Stop trying to aggrandize yourself. It doesn't work.
Edith Hartig, Brooklyn
Andrey Slivka replies: Since I never used the pejorative formulations "extreme radicals" and "crazies" in my article about the intersection of aggrieved blacks and dishonest simpering whites, I have no idea why Hartig puts them in quotes in her letter.
Also, I never accused Hartig or anyone else of being European?which, I agree, is a depressing thing to be, and especially Belgian. I wrote about a man at the forum who described himself as being Western European.
Hartig is to be commended for befriending her black neighbors in Brooklyn Heights.
Finally, I don't believe that Hartig never says "by gum." I'll bet she says it all the time.
Soup Bones John Strausbaugh does it again ("Coeds at War", 3/22). Stephanie Gutmann is on the money?liberal policies have turned the U.S. Army into a pathetic joke, and the true warriors are leaving the military as if from a sinking ship.
There's a problem with dumbing down military training. The sole purpose of the training is to keep you alive in a combat situation. It's not to make you feel good or satisfy some idea of sexual equality. And staying alive in a combat situation is directly related to physical strength and endurance: "The more sweat on the training field, the less blood on the battlefield."
No matter how much the liberals and feminists try to interfere with the military so that it doesn't offend their precious left-wing sensibilities (these cowards who would do anything to avoid serving themselves), unfortunately war remains the same. And the training is supposed to respond to the needs of war, not liberal outrage. The Army does not exist to provide equal opportunity. It exists to defend the country?to kill people. That is its only purpose.
Politicians should not try to tamper with the military, any more than they should butt in and overrule doctors treating a seriously ill patient. They're not qualified to talk about military matters. Let the guys who are experienced career soldiers and have risen in the organization presumably on merit (that rules out Secretary of Defense William Cohen, by the way) make the decisions about how the organization is run?especially how to train recruits. It's really not something for amateurs.
George Patton used to say that it took 10 years for an officer to start earning his pay. Experience is irreplaceable in war; there's just no getting around it.
I have heard some of these women promoting sex equality in the military say the stupidest things?for example, that because of all the high-tech junk used in war today, physical strength is not crucial. That is totally false. Of course these people, so full of contempt for the military in the first place, have never come within 1000 miles of a war zone and have never even seen an army except on tv. They think that wars are fought by remote control or something.
The Israelis don't let women do combat duty with men. Not because they're sexist pigs, but because they have found that the men tend to go off their heads when they see their female comrades get really hurt. The Israelis, whose survival depends on the army in a much more real sense than ours does, have concluded that it is simply counterproductive to pretend that women and men are equal. But that kind of thinking could never fly among the leftists in the White House.
Real warriors are attracted to the traditional all-male military culture and are completely disgusted with the candy-ass, lying organization the U.S. Army has become. Consequently, the Army is hemorrhaging talent. Meanwhile they keep lowering their standards to accommodate the femmes and keep the numbers up. As Col. David Hackworth (retired) put it, "We're back to the quantity over quality system that produced Lt. William Calley of My Lai shame and filled so many body bags in Vietnam. The Army should follow the Marines' example and push for higher standards?not lower. The Corps continues to make its boot training tougher, and the line to become a Leatherneck grows longer."
Joe Rodrigue, New Haven
Take Away This Ball and Chain Re: Alexander Cockburn's 3/22 "Wild Justice":
Bravo! That article is years overdue! As an opponent of gay (and straight) marriage, I've always found it quite ironic that a community that prides itself on diversity and inclusion would stand up for something that sanctions one lifestyle over another. I am a thoroughly happy nonmonogamous person?and have been for as far back as I can remember. How dare anyone tell me that my relationships are less legitimate because I lack a ring on my left finger! The gay community fought for the right to love whomever. What about the right to love however?
Lauren Wissot, Manhattan
X-Men Andrey Slivka: Last week, I read your 3/15 "Apples with Honey" article about Leshko's. Very good. I decided to try it. Indeed, it was quite good. But I was puzzled at your characterization as a venue for Generation X.
I have been a spokesman for Generation X for about seven years; actually, eight years if you include 1995. However, I had never even stepped foot inside or even heard of Leshko's before. Funny?
Actually, I've noticed my generation heading uptown lately. For example, tonight I hit Elaine's with a couple of Oriental girls I know. The place was packed because of the Oscars thing, but Generation-Xers prevailed in the end. Maybe you will stop by my table for a drink; I'm afraid your Taki is still sore because of the fanny pack/cellphone revelation.
P.S.: Mr. O'Toole, who opposed me in "The Mail" a few weeks ago (3/8), is a goddamn bum. He is a pussy and I will kick his ass. I'd bet my .22 Beretta over his Walther semi any day.
Tom Phillips, Manhattan
Calling Dr. Love In his 3/22 "Opinion" column "Stopping Dr. Laura," Michelangelo Signorile makes a number of debatable assertions, one of the most interesting being, "The last thing anyone expected, however, was that the gay staffers at Paramount would revolt."
Actually, that was the most obvious development. Why wouldn't they protest? No executive was going to dare discipline a gay employee for attacking "hate" (the unique catch-all that includes any deviation from the p.c. line on gays) and thus risk being accused of being a bigot himself. Hell, Dan Savage admitted to spreading flu among Republicans and didn't get so much as a slap on the wrist. The gay staffers could protest with impunity, secure in the knowledge that no matter what they said, they would be protected from the consequences of their actions. And the potential gain was tremendous. If gay activists could exert control over the programming decisions of a major studio and tv network, they would have the power that normally accrues to stockholders and executives, without buying so much as a single share of stock. That's a huge gain, with no risk of reprisal. Why wouldn't they revolt? They had everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Then there's Signorile's assertion that "everyone has a right to lobby a private company not to promote hate." This is true, as far as it goes (again, "hate" is a highly loaded word, and while Dr. Laura certainly doesn't approve of homosexuality, that doesn't make her an advocate of "hate"), and boycotts and protests are an effective tool to communicate distaste for a company's policies, but there's a difference between lobbying and threatening, just as there is a difference between persuasion and extortion.
Signorile then goes on to say, "No government entity has told Schlessinger or Paramount to refrain from making antigay remarks; if Paramount scraps the show it will do so voluntarily, if under pressure." Uh, no. While only a government can use the law to censor dissent, that isn't the only form of censorship that can occur in our society. When black students at a major university stole the entire print run of the school paper and destroyed it to prevent one column from being read, they censored it as effectively as any state institution could have. Paramount may scrap the show, but it will do so under duress, which is hardly voluntary. A contract signed under duress is not legally binding, for the obvious reason that it is not voluntary. Similarly, an agreement reached with activists who use threats and intimidation is no agreement, but simple capitulation to extortion. By Signorile's logic, abortion clinics that close in the face of protests are doing so "voluntarily, if under pressure."
When protesters block the gates of a studio and harass and threaten studio employees, they are doing through intimidation what they cannot do through the law. It's still censorship, it just isn't being done by the government.
Any minority that claims the right to use these techniques against the majority has no right to complain when they are on the receiving end of those tactics. Michelangelo Signorile would do well to remember that.
Mike Harris, Los Angeles
Michelangelo Signorile replies: Whether you're gay or straight, publicly speaking out against your employer on any issue is not going to keep you in good graces?particularly when you may be damaging your company's ability to make millions of dollars. Where you get the idea that the gay staffers could speak up with impunity, I don't know. But your fear of how gays might "exert control" in the industry sounds suspiciously like what we've historically heard from certain quarters about Jews, too. I think we know exactly where you are coming from, sir. Your false assertions are not much different from Schlessinger's own distortions of reality. For example, no media reported that people blocked the gates of Paramount and harassed employees. In fact, according to those who were present, police worked with protesters and gave them their space. Protesters even cheered employees driving in, who honked their horns in solidarity.
And you compare apples and oranges. Destroying the school papers was a crime, and should be punished. Blocking access to abortion clinics is a crime as well. Gay activists are doing nothing illegal. The criticism of Paramount is occurring within the realm of the law and of the marketplace. The multibillion-dollar entertainment conglomerate that owns Paramount?Viacom/CBS?may decide it is not worth it to produce the show. It may decide that the upside?the money it could make in the short term?may not be worth the potential damage to the company's image, and thus loss of more millions. Or it may decide that it is worth it?which so far seems to be the case. Companies like Paramount make such strategic decisions every day, based on many factors weighing on the marketplace. It's perfectly legal and moral for activists?yes, even including religious right activists?and the communities they represent to be among the factors that weigh on the marketplace as well.
However, I will leave this issue to the very organization that many years ago famously defended the rights of Nazis to march down the streets of Skokie, IL, as reported in the Los Angeles Times on March 20: "According to Peter J. Eliasberg, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Paramount might be well-advised to heed the protesters, saying much of what Schlessinger has said is 'homophobic and hateful.' Programmers, he added, make choices about what to put on all the time, and whether something might alienate a segment of the population is a legitimate consideration. 'It's not censorship in the way I look at it because it's not the government,' Eliasberg said."
Cui Bone-O? Re: Michelangelo Signorile's 3/22 "Opinion" piece: What is more insulting to our ears? A goofy L.A. blonde radio show host, or a supposed gay community advocate who equates being an African-American or a Jew to someone who makes a rather unusual decision about where to put his penis on any given day or night?
Tom Paynter, Las Vegas
Kraut, Not Sour I live in Berlin, and when I went to New York City for a holiday I was surprised how monotonous the news-landscape is. Every newspaper is more or less the same. When I met a friend in New York, he said, "You should read New York Press. It's the only good newspaper."
So I did, and he was right. Now that I'm back in Berlin, I miss it. And I started reading the online version. But wait! Something is wrong here! I had read an article by George Tabb about a video game system called NeoGeo in the 3/1 New York Press when I was still in New York. It was the funniest thing I ever read.
So here in Berlin I tried to find a new "Byte Me" column by Tabb. (The column said at the end: "Every week in this space...") But I cannot even find the one from the 3/1 edition online. Can it be possible that I miss the best part of New York Press when I read it online?
Marc Bachhofen, Berlin, Germany
Keeping It Real Pretentious I have two questions for Adam Heimlich. First, did you grow up in New York City, or did you come to this city for college and decide to stay after your graduation?
Second, do you ever get the feeling that you are one of the "cornballs" that Ricky Powell mentions ("Heimytown," 3/22)? This last question also goes out to anyone who has ever worn a Rawkus t-shirt in front of a mirror in a b-boy stance or while flexing their muscles.
Name Withheld, Brooklyn
Swamp Gas Byron York ("Op Ed," 3/22) described several allegations of illegal contributions to Sen. Torricelli's 1996 campaign. Unfortunately, recent legal contributions may be equally influential. According to Jefferson Morley, writing in the Feb. 28, 2000, issue of The American Prospect, the CEO of Mills Corp. bundled eight $1000 checks to the Senator in March 1999. Torricelli supports a plan for a huge new Mills mall in the Hackensack Meadowlands?a project that will destroy 90 acres of wetlands. With environmentalists like him, who needs Republicans?
John Cantilli, Cranford, NJ
Torture Chamber MUGGER: I am hopeful that you will be able to keep Marc Cooper ("Opinion," 3/15) away from the voting booth in November. I am so terribly afraid that he might hurt himself.
Lee Vela, Gardnerville, NV
Photo Montages? In your 3/22 issue: a little, tired imitation of "Radical Chic"; an article about how women are ruining the Army; an article about how the Hollywood victims of the blacklist really did okay and were all Stalinist traitors anyway; and a boring rehash of how the Democrats are corrupt. Four fifths of the front page! And you make fun of the Village Voice for being stuck in the 1970s?
And to add insult to injury, there were hardly any comics. So what are you good for?
Gordon Fitch, Staten Island
Smack the Messenger Jim Knipfel's article on BookWars ("New York City," 3/22) would make a great parody on how inevitable contrived backlash is in the wake of even modest success. Unfortunately, he chose to profile the sour grapes of two individuals who are no longer even out on the street selling their wares. Jason Rosette's film is a genuine labor of love made with no outside funding or support. Its success can only benefit the bookmen who are still out there, the majority of whom are enthusiastic about the film. I don't understand the point of even writing this article in order to profile two guys who hardly appear in the finished film and have only negative and mostly inaccurate things to say.
Kudos to Matt Zoller Seitz for his excellent and generous 3/8 review of an entertaining and original nonfiction movie.
Rick Sherman, Manhattan
Rudy Hess Re: Alexander Cockburn's 3/15 "Wild Justice":
So we have to wait until a politician starts murdering people in gas ovens before we call him a Nazi? Wouldn't that be a little late? Giuliani has a Nazi's heart, moral outlook and temperament. He does not believe in democracy. He represents incipient fascism?the first green sprout of fascism, rather than the full bloom of Nazi horror. Giuliani trivializes the Holocaust by constantly undermining the constitutional protections that restrain his totalitarian cravings. Those protections are designed to prevent such horror as the Holocaust from happening in our country.
Hitler was a rabid dog without a leash. Giuliani is a rabid dog with a somewhat weakened leash. If he ever tears from his leash completely, we won't need art exhibits to remind us of the Nazis, we'll be firsthand witnesses.
Canaan Parker, Manhattan
Getting Her Bon Bon On As big a Soul Coughing fan as I claim to be?and I convinced myself I held a few records?I never knew that M. Doughty wrote for New York Press. Not only is he witty, colorful and full of detail, but his deadpan humor and ability to ridicule the obvious have me rolling.
I was wondering when anyone was going to catch on to the Rick-off of "Super Bon Bon" ("Music," 2/16). It's about time someone targeted the Latino Stallion with the hips that defy all laws of nature. I'm probably one of the few young ladies left in this country?nay, the world?who hasn't fallen under the spell of former Menudo member Ricky Martin. I wish that creative, original, stunning bands like Soul Coughing were out livin' la vida loca as opposed to the boy-band reject from hell. Unfortunately, good music is always overlooked, and good judgment can be clouded by a pair of tight black leather pants. I am hoping that Doughty continues to write, so that I may continue to read.
Jenn Tisdale, Los Angeles
Escrow's Nest Taki: To show the world that your $5 million reward is for real ("Top Drawer," 3/15), why not let me hold it for you in a quasi-escrow account? This way your contest to nail the three criminals will have more credibility than Gore's finance reform campaign?and won't be seen as a cheap publicity sham.
If you do have a little trouble raising the dough, perhaps you and your colleague could supplement your petty cash fund by attending a few community outreach events at local Buddhist temples.
Charles O'Connor, Los Angeles
Wendy Shalit Turned Us Down The Tanya Richardson article ("First Person," 3/15) was appalling. Yeah, it was the fucking and the despite-my-intelligence-I'm-pretty-cool-when-it-comes-to-drugs thing. It's completely unoriginal. Why would you run a cookie-cutter story like this? Amy Sohn wasn't even original. At best Richardson is the sequel to the sequel to the sequel.
If you want to add women writers to your staff, then do so, but publishing Tanya Richardson isn't good for anyone. Not only do you continue to show us your fairly meager view of what women writers can do, but you set a bad example for up-and-coming writers who read this copy-cat crap in New York Press, supposedly a high point in the publishing world.
Other than that, your paper is great. Send Tanya packing and get a woman who can write. There are plenty of them.
Peter Wilson, Tokyo
London Bawlin' Perhaps I could have taken Tanya Richardson's article "In Defense of Oasis" (3/15) seriously if she hadn't been simultaneously flaunting her contempt for London and trying to score points for having lived there for a few months. I've been living in London since July 1996 and I love it, one of the principal reasons being that I find the city totally lacking in New York City's mind-blowing self-absorption. You can have Manhattan. I'll take Marylebone any day.
As for the reaction to Princess Diana's death, I visited the Kensington Palace grounds during the following week, and I can tell you that plenty of the tributes left there were from non-Britons. I'm curious to know what Richardson makes of all the oh-so-emotionally-aware Americans who were piling flowers high and deep in front of the British embassy in Washington at the time. Presumably that's okay, being an honest expression of emotion, rather than an excuse for loosing repressed sentiment.
(Lest you get the wrong idea, I'm no particular fan of the late princess, but I'm even less a fan of intellectual laziness and bad writing. And while we're on the subject, couldn't Richardson find something more original than Britons' supposed repression to single out? The words "shoot," "fish" and "barrel" come to mind.)
Given Richardson's aforementioned contempt, I'm not really surprised that she couldn't be bothered to spell Croydon correctly, although I'd like to know what excuse your editorial staff has for missing such an obvious clanger. I'm not standing up in defense of the place, which is a typical postwar suburb with lots of bomb-shelter-style architecture, but pace Richardson's comments on the town's name, I will concede that it doesn't carry any of the pastoral allusions of, say, Levittown or Massapequa.
Oh, and as for Oasis, too bad you had to waste column inches on The Most Overhyped Band In History, particularly when Richardson herself concedes that they "are, at best, putting out a watered-down version of rock," and that "most Oasis albums contain only a few gems." The next time you tackle the UK music scene, perhaps you could find a subject of actual interest and a less narrow-minded correspondent.
Dan Weeks, LONDON
Didn't Like The Collage? Goddamn it, MUGGER! My Tuesday afternoon fix is fucking nowhere to be found! No 3/22 column? You realize this means I may have to actually do some fucking work around here! What's up with that shit, man!
Josh Tate, Los Angeles
Belloc Down William Bryk's 3/15 "Old Smoke" column on Hilaire Belloc was wonderful. Thank you so much for publishing such a beautiful and moving biography of a remarkable man. God bless you.
C.M. Ross, Virginia Beach, VA
Doc Hodson Checks In John Strausbaugh: I very much enjoyed your 3/8 "AIDS Heretics" article, which featured an interview with Celia Farber and Nicholas Regush. I have been a longtime follower of the AIDS dissident movement, and it is rare to see any coverage in a mainstream news source. Thank you for having the courage to publish this. I'm sure you will receive some heat for doing so. Hopefully, this will indicate to you that you are on the right track. Keep up the good work.
Robert S. Hodson, MD, Birmingham, AL
It's a Hustle Kudo's for John Strausbaugh's courageous reporting on "AIDS"! We are certainly happy to see the HIV hypothesis get blasted but, alas, we fear the public wouldn't be any better off with the HHV-6 hypothesis. Not only would focusing on HHV-6 mean replacing HIV chemos with HHV-6 chemos, it would mean replacing HIV hysteria with HHV-6 hysteria.
The problem is that both of these infectious models of AIDS perpetuate the myth of a deadly, sexually transmitted syndrome. There is no such thing. (The Centers for Disease Control even admitted to the mythology that "every one is at risk" on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, May 1,1996.)
AIDS is a noninfectious, corporate government construct supported by fear, fabricated correlations and an invalidated test. New York Press has reported on an HIV dissident argument. Wonderful. Now we would like to see a report on the AIDS dissident argument.
Michael Ellner, president Tom DiFerdinando, executive director HEAL (Health Education AIDS Liaison), Manhattan
So True, So True Re: Lionel Tiger's 3/8 column: old boy networks, religious affiliations and the like have exercised unfair, short-sighted and destructive power for ages, and it is a healthy thing in a pluralist society for someone like Tiger to point out when society as a whole is falling into the bad habit of employing narrow-minded partisans to make judgments on strangers to their cause.
But it is unfortunate that he ended his remarks with an ill-chosen attack on the concept of "role model." What education and motivation is there except by example? Knowledge, values, motivation and even the ability to make independent judgments are learned not by rote or from stern pedagogues, but from the examples of others who live by and profit from them.
Tiger invites harsh judgment against those who achieve good by working through that community, and he therefore teaches the practice he deplores. Let's look for role models who demonstrate clarity of thought, open-mindedness to those who begin their thinking from different points of departure and the ability to work with self-centered individuals and communities. Values cannot be hammered home like nails, but are learned from the examples set by others?from role models.
Anthony Burton, Amherst, MA
The Great Punditry Crisis MUGGER: You have the hardest of jobs, you have easiest of jobs. To wade through the reams of punditry and report back must be hard, tedious work. And yet it affords ample scope for relentless criticism that almost writes itself. Still, I appreciate your work, enjoy it and am informed by it. Thank you.
The question presents itself, why is punditry so uniformly lousy? Why can you count on one hand those who consistently write well on interesting topics? This is a problem that plagues more than just political pundits, but spills into the technical field as well. The theory my brother arrived at in the computer field was simply that the computer media require a certain number of pundits, qualified or not. Every publication must provide commentary on the subject they cover, and a lousy pundit is better than no pundit at all. And since you can make orders of magnitude more money doing rather than writing in that field, people who know what they are talking about don't write about it.
I think this same unfortunate problem applies to the realm of political commentary as well. But an additional pressure on quality is added?typically, all a columnist requires is the desired ideology and people won't care about poor quality in writing, logic or research. And the pressure of writing a regular column, whether anything of note has actually occurred since the last one, can't be ignored. Sadly, this goes a long way in my mind toward explaining why after reading all the columnists of, say, The New York Times (although almost any publication will do), the typical reader is less informed than before he started.
Kevin Murphy, St. Louis
Gore Is a Twinkie To the editors: I am quite disappointed that nowhere in your last issue did you address the gravest crisis of the moment, which threatens to bring Greater New York to its knees: the Twinkie Panic of 2000.
How can a simple deliverymen's strike prove so hazardous? How indeed? Oh sure, when things are riding high, no one thinks the good times will ever end. But the evidence is overwhelming that our economy, nay, our national morale faces a dreadful danger.
Many of your readers are too young, I'm sure, to remember the Great Twinkie Embargo of 1974. The memory of that terror is burned into my childhood. The long lines at convenience stores, the rationing that permitted purchase of Twinkies only on alternate days, the mocking signs in supermarket windows that read simply "No Twinkies." Our government, reeling with the humiliation of Watergate, was crippled by the pastry embargo enforced by OTEC. It looked as though the doomsayers' promise of the collapse of civilization was coming to fruition. Fights would break out on the lines as tensions rose. Real sugar-guzzlers (fat kids) would have their windows broken. Hardware stores brazenly advertised siphons that could remove the creamy filling from your neighbor's Twinkie in mere minutes?and cheerfully sold breadbox locks to your neighbor as well. Zingers went on the black market for five dollars a pop (the "Zing Nickel," as the pushers called them).
Fortunately, the crisis, and the threatened war on OTEC, passed, and we began the long climb to our current prosperity. But we must be vigilant lest this new scarcity of delicious confections plunges us back into despair. I leave you with one provocative question: Does Vice President Gore own any shares in Occidental Foodstuffs?
Mark Amundsen, Monroe, NY
To a Bloody Pulp Once I stopped laughing, my first instinct on reading the comments of Chris Stern and Dudley Giehl ("The Mail," 3/22) was to reply with ad hominem sarcasm. Friends persuaded me, however, that making fun of people from Hoboken and guys named Dudley would not constitute a proper rebuttal of Messrs. Stern and Giehl's defense of the animal rights movement. It's getting so a fellow can't have fun anymore.
So I must resort to the dull business of employing evidence and logic to destroy their arguments. Accord to Prof. Stern, animal-rights lawyer Steven Wise "draws on the enormous body of scientific evidence...that attests to the impressive cognitive, linguistic and social abilities of the great apes."Impressive to whom, Professor? Excuse my sarcasm, but as impressive as the abilities of great apes may seem in Hoboken, the rest of us are not so enthusiastic. The abilities of apes may be "impressive" if compared to, say, a squirrel or a sparrow, but I dare say that apes come up short when compared to most human beings, even human beings in Hoboken. (Out, damn ad hominem!)
To say that Wise "draws on...scientific evidence" is like saying Al Sharpton "draws on" the legacy of Martin Luther King. What Wise actually does is to shamefully abuse scientific evidence, selectively employing just so much of that evidence as can be twisted into a simulacrum of support for his sophistry and special pleading. In just the same way, Wise rips from context his historical, legal and political texts to assemble a crazy-quilt argument that is repugnant to any common-sense interpretation of the facts. Prof. Stern appeals to authority, citing Roger Fouts, Jane Goodall and Jeremy Bentham. He deploys glittering generalities about "the interconnectedness of humans and animals." He tries to dress his argument in the prestige of expertise, trotting out "the many new discoveries that have been made in both the physical and social sciences." What Prof. Stern never does, however, is argue?there is not even the shadow of a valid syllogism in his letter to convince me or anyone else of the "rights" of apes. The same is true of Steven Wise, whose book combines a rhetorical shell game with maudlin sentimental appeals.
As for Mr. Giehl, he begins by taking issue with my characterization of the "Primate Freedom Tour" crowd as malodorous bohemians. He claims that the "cause of animal rights...is by no means a monolithic movement dominated by people who pierce their eyebrows and wear torn jeans." Well, obviously not: Steven Wise has held lectureships at several prestigious universities and managed to con a major commercial publishing house into giving him a book deal. So, yes, there must be some superficially reputable people involved in this otherwise disreputable "cause." But the cold fact of the matter is that the protesters who showed up in Washington to burn Donna Shalala in effigy were just as I described them?smelly examples of "alternative" youth culture?which suggested to me that this is a fringe movement without significant popular support in mainstream America. That was the point I was trying to make; perhaps next time I shall dispense with the subtlety and just SPELL EVERYTHING OUT IN BIG LETTERS for those who are too thick to take the hint.
Like Prof. Stern, Mr. Giehl appeals to authority by citing the names of various academics at prestigious institutions who have "championed animal rights." Yes, and I could rattle off a list of academics at equally prestigious institutions who have "championed" eugenics, white supremacy, gay rights or revolutionary Marxism, but that would prove nothing. Mr. Giehl replicates the error of Wise as he proudly enlists the animal rights movement in the ranks of those "fanatics who opposed the burning of witches, the slave trade, religious intolerance and the oppression of women." Okay, Mr. Giehl, let's play along: a witch, an African slave, a Protestant and a woman are all morally equivalent to an ape. To paraphrase an old Sesame Street jingle, which of these things is not like the others? Whatever we may think of witches, slaves, Protestants or women, all are inarguably human. An ape is not human. Unless you wish to argue that "human" is an invalid category, your analogy falls apart when it is extended to apes. And if you attempt to argue against the validity of "human" as a category, you open up a very dangerous can of worms. If I must SPELL THINGS OUT for you, sir, the attempt to humanize apes invites the dehumanization of those humans who are not quite so cute and cuddly as Koko the gorilla?very dangerous, I repeat. Mr. Giehl remarks that "some people have the notion that they are somehow superior to others...[whom] they deem to be inferior."
I hate to burst your egalitarian bubble, Mr. Giehl, but some people actually are superior to other people. Russ Smith, for example, being a successful publisher, has in some sense demonstrated his superiority to us poor working drudges who are dependent upon his benevolence for the occasional freelance gig. Even more spectacularly have humans demonstrated their superiority to apes. With the determinist faith of the old-style Marxists who saw in every headline an omen of the final collapse of capitalism, Mr. Giehl sees the animal rights "struggle" as the "next frontier in the struggle for justice and fairness," and urges me to "get used to it." Oh, please. Mr. Giehl is parading his own moral superiority, claiming to be so far ahead of us workaday shmoes as to have reached the "next frontier." We are all now supposed to genuflect in the presence of his awesome virtue. Excuse me if I remain standing. However much amusement I have derived from the epistles of Messrs. Stern and Giehl, their arguments would be much more impressive if they were made by the apes themselves. As it is, I suspect that they are just two middle-class white liberals who have gone searching for a cause and, finding no humans crying out for their patronizing condescension, are happy to have lucked upon a constituency that mutely accepts their advocacy. This is truly a match made in heaven.
Robert Stacy McCain, Gaithersburg, MD