Backtalk July/August

Congratulations on your 25th anniversary (“The First 25 Years,” May/June), but my word, you people are full of yourselves. Why can’t Mother Jones take pride in its investigative journalism without dismissing the so-called mainstream media as useless cowards and corporate stooges? Does Mother really think she is the only publication to look under rocks?

Full disclosure: I’m a reporter for a chain-owned daily newspaper. Chain-owned papers have their drawbacks—the endless search for profits is reducing newsroom resources—but they continue to produce excellent exposes on police abuses, political graft, corporate malfeasance, families in poverty, environmental horrors, exploited immigrants, American imperialism overseas, and so on. Check out the finalists this year for the Pulitzer Prize and the Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, all of them great stories that honor the reporter’s role as watchdog for the underdog.

I admire Mother Jones and draw inspiration from its writers. I have kept a watchful eye on payday-loan companies lobbying in our state legislature after first reading about the industry years ago in Mother Jones. I just wish, after a 12-hour day working on an investigation, I didn’t see such sweeping generalizations in the magazine about the worthlessness of myself and my colleagues.

John Cheves
Lexington Herald-Leader
Lexington, Kentucky


 

An Image of Healing

The “Photography With Conviction” collection in the anniversary issue caught my eye—especially the powerful Sebastiao Salgado picture of the M&#233decins Sans Frontieres surgeon about to operate on a Khmer Rouge land-mine victim. I am studying medicine right now and that photograph captured why. I saw it and thought, “That is what I want to do with my life.”

Patrick O’Herron
Tucson, Arizona


 

Grading Edison

One would think Chuck Sudetic would be thrilled that Edison Schools Inc. has managed to take over and improve some low-performing schools (“Reading, Writing and Revenue,” May/June). Instead, Sudetic gives cursory mention to evidence of Edison’s successes, and then turns to union-sponsored research that argues the contrary (as if the American Federation of Teachers would ever give Edison any credit). He grouses that Edison overstates their results—perhaps, but don’t the public schools do the same? Ultimately, the piece falls into a knee-jerk, anticorporate hatchet job that only fortifies the miserable status quo in education.

If Mother Jones wants to be a “hellraiser” on the education issue, then perhaps it ought to raise more radical questions. Is freedom of thought fostered or retarded by forcing most children to attend public schools? Why have we come to equate public schools with those controlled by teachers unions? Is there evidence to suggest that what we currently call public schools are any more accountable to the public and parents than other types of schools? And might a public school system that includes schools run by nonprofit organizations, for-profits, and churches provide parents and children with better educational opportunities?

Kevin R. Kosar
Brooklyn, New York


 

In your lead photograph of an Edison school classroom, I couldn’t help noticing several glaring errors on the blackboard. Under “George Washington,” both “soldier” and “surveyor” are misspelled. Abraham Lincoln had four children (not three), two of whom (not one) died young. John F. Kennedy had three children, not two, the third of whom (Patrick Bouvier Kennedy) died in infancy. The blackboard lists John F. Kennedy as having been “born in 1929” when in fact he was born in 1917; it was Jacqueline Kennedy who was born in ’29. What’s more, had JFK been born in 1929, he would not have been eligible under the Constitution to serve as president until 1964. If the above errors are indicative of the quality of Edison schools, I’ll take my chances educating my children in the allegedly wasteful and bureaucratic nonprofit public school system.

Andrew Milner
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania


 

Move Over, Milli Vanilli

My compliments to Ian Frazier for observing that President Bush is not alone in not knowing what he is doing (“Dubya and Me,” May/June). As a professional psychologist for 45 years, I can testify to the accuracy of Frazier’s reflections. It is a common problem, but one that has never been identified so well. In my teenage years, I was hired to work as a guitarist with top bands, even though I barely knew one chord from another. But because I was attractive and could dance a little on the side, I got the job. I would fake, fake, fake, strumming it all.

H. Jon Geis
Las Vegas, Nevada


 

Ian Frazier states that a friend of his who teaches a college course on Thomas Jefferson believes the founding father had no intention of including his famous “pursuit of happiness” phrase in the Declaration of Independence “until he saw the words flowing from his pen.” According to at least two history books I’ve consulted, Jefferson’s original phrase was “pursuit of property.” Several signers of the Declaration objected to the wording, and after some heated wrangling, “pursuit of happiness” was agreed to as a reasonable compromise.

M. Neven du Mont
Pleasanton, Texas


 

Caring for the Caribou

Tom Dunkel’s article on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (“Counting Caribou,” May/June) is well-written propaganda with little factual merit. Indeed, it is a massive distortion of the reality in which we live.

Dunkel focuses on the people of the Gwich’in Nation but conveniently neglects to mention the Kaktovikmiut, for whom I serve as mayor. We are the real and only native people of the place in question. It is our homelands that are at whatever risk oil development east of the Canning River may pose. The Gwich’in live someplace else and would hardly be affected at all.

It is excessive hunting, mostly in Canada, that has led to the recent dramatic reduction in the caribou herd that Dunkel cites. Modern and well-regulated oil and gas activity has little or no effect on caribou. Indeed, most of the industrial activity will take place when the caribou are in Canada, suffering uncontrolled predation.

Nobody cares more about this place or is more committed to its protection than the Kaktovikmiut. It is for that reason that we and other Inupiat are intensely engaged in environmental protection all across the North Slope. At Prudhoe Bay, we have far and away the world’s cleanest oil field, and much of the credit for that goes to our local governments. Any development east of the Canning will be even more carefully designed and regulated. It will do no harm to anything except the romantic notions and imperialistic tendencies of such people as Tom Dunkel.

Lon Sonsalla
Kaktovik, Alaska


 

Upwardly Mobile

Your article “The Trailer Park Revolution” (May/June) was right on target. Forty-five of the 460 parks in New Hampshire are tenant-owned. Oregon, by contrast, has 1 tenant-owned park out of 1,503. Unlike New Hampshire, we have no community loan fund, making it very tough to get the financing needed to own our own parks. Thanks for giving some much-appreciated notice to the issues facing us “dirt tenants.”

Larry Romine
Veneta, Oregon


 

No Small Contribution

Judging from the caustic letter from reader Jerry Dunn (Backtalk, May/June), Eric Bates’ report on President Bush’s campaign finances seems to have been a great success. Mr. Dunn, who describes himself as a “nonwealthy, retired senior citizen,” blithely proclaims that 300,000 Bush supporters gave less than $1,000 each—apparently offering this as proof that Bush contributors are just ordinary folks. On what cloud are the Jerry Dunns of this nation living? For ordinary Americans to give a candidate anything close to $1,000, they would have to give $1 of every $30 they earn for the entire year. A thousand dollars would pay for a great deal of medicine and children’s clothing in an ordinary family budget.

Larry Boudreau
San Antonio, Texas


 

Prescriptions on Demand

Lisa Belkin’s article on direct-to-consumer marketing by drug companies really hit the proverbial nail on the head (“Prime-Time Pushers,” March/April). As a health-plan manager for a group of school districts in Kansas, I noticed recently that a study by the American Medical Association reported that doctors often prescribe drugs when patients ask for them—even if there is little data to support the need. One cause was the pressure to satisfy customers. Another was doctors being wined and dined by the drug reps. We can only hope that one of the pharmaceutical companies will soon develop a pill to treat this outlandish and unhealthy disorder!

John Beran
Fort Scott, Kansas