Backtalk November/December

Right-to-Life Rights

Barry Yeoman’s article on the abortion industry in Louisiana (“The Quiet War on Abortion,” September/October) would be more accurately described as “creative writing” rather than “journalism.” It required a great amount of skill and imagination to spin the story so that one of Louisiana’s abortion providers, Robin Rothrock, could be portrayed as a hero.

I assisted in drafting the current laws not because they are so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, but because they were a measured response to dangerous conditions in clinics. It is curious how the same liberals who hail government regulation in any form can make an illogical and dangerous exception for the abortion industry.

Mike Johnson
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


 

Yeoman and Rothrock clearly don’t want any sort of protest coming from their ideological opponents. As citizens, pro-lifers have just as much right to join forces and affect public policy as NOW and Planned Parenthood and your beloved Green Party. The tone of the article makes it abundantly clear that what really galls Yeoman is that pro-lifers have learned to play the same game of sniper politics in state legislatures that pro-abortioners have played in the courts for the past 30 years. Yeoman is unpleasantly surprised to learn that what has for so long gone around has, indeed, finally come around.

Michael D. Myers
Monroeville, Indiana


 

The Old Deal

Your article “Losing Signal” (September/October) reminds me of my father’s anxieties about the Federal Communications Commission during his nearly 30 years as manager of major-market radio and TV stations, beginning in the 1930s. He groused about this or that regulation as unwise or unduly burdensome, but his concerns were never with the New Deal definition of the public interest. He recognized that the airwaves were the public’s and that government had a right to regulate them in the public interest. He recognized a responsibility to take public criticism seriously and proudly set forth unparalleled records of public service in his market.

My father was a dedicated Republican, far to the right on virtually every issue. I think we agreed on politics only once, the day Nixon resigned (“Well, Bill, I guess you were right about Nixon”). But he would, I think, be appalled at the current FCC’s abandonment of the public interest in the interest of corporate license: He loved his community more than money.

William H. Slavick
Portland, Maine


 

A Cycle of Madness

Ken Silverstein did a fine job outlining how America’s flawed criminal justice system permits the execution of people with serious mental illness on an all-too-regular basis (“By Reason of Insanity,” September/October). However, by focusing on the death penalty, he missed a much larger problem: The prison system routinely punishes mentally ill prisoners for behaviors that are nothing but the symptoms of their illnesses, while providing virtually no treatment. The punishments imposed-including the increasing reliance on supermax prisons to warehouse the mentally ill-have the ironic effect of making the underlying illnesses worse, thereby perpetuating a cycle of deepening psychosis.

Unfortunately, the cycle ends only when these severely damaged individuals are released back into the community, with no follow-up or treatment. It is no wonder that upon release, these damaged souls so often return to prison. We need to keep firmly in mind that the death penalty is only the last stop in this cycle of mistreatment and abuse.

Alan Mills
Chicago, Illinois


 

Silverstein is obviously not from Aspen. If he were, he might have mentioned the events of June 7, 1977. That was the day Ted Bundy escaped out of a second-story window of the courthouse library in Aspen, where he was supposedly doing legal research to defend himself against yet another charge of murdering young women. If Silverstein were from Aspen, he would probably remember the terror of having such a maniac running loose in one’s own neighborhood. The police caught him a week later, but Bundy escaped once more and evaded arrest long enough to kill again and again. Only when he was executed was society safe from him.

The right of the insane to use their insanity as mitigation needs to be balanced against their threat to society. Daniel Colwell, the defendant whose case Silverstein recounts, is a 300-pound threat.

Michael Greenwald
San Diego, California


 

Slaves to Cane

Amy Wilentz is a tireless champion of Haiti, and I congratulate her for describing so poignantly the plight of Haitian cane cutters in the Dominican Republic (“Slaving for Cane,” September/ October). I lived in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley from 1997 to 2000, when I was administrator of Albert Schweitzer Hospital. We often heard stories of Haitians in the D.R. who were regularly dumped over the border by the thousands, sometimes naked and hurt, always broke. We collected clothes for those refugees, who no longer had homes in Haiti, from our own poverty-stricken population. I traveled through the Dominican Republic a few years ago and could always spot a Haitian by his deeper color and rags. Lighter-skinned Dominicans pursed their mouths and gazed into the distance whenever I mentioned Haitians.

Wilentz refers to the 1937 slaughter of Haitians at “Massacre River,” an incident vividly described by Edwidge Danticat in Farming of the Bones. Another poignant account of a young man kidnapped from his home and sent to the cane fields, in the tradition of ancient slavery, is told in Frances Temple’s A Taste of Salt. The title comes from a vodun belief that you can bring a zombie back to life with a bit of salt. I fear it will take more than that to bring Haitian cane cutters and their families back to health, dignity, and their human rights.

Leita Kaldi
Sarasota, Florida


 

Making Waves

Todd Wilkinson’s article on Russell Long, founder of the Bluewater Network (“Cutting the Jet Ski Engines,” September/October), misstated several facts regarding personal watercraft. Personal watercraft owners have never sought unlimited access to all waterways in national parks. We believe, however, that there is a place for the watercraft where similar boating activities (like waterskiing, wake boarding, and speedboating) are allowed. In addition, the same two-stroke engines that power personal watercraft also power the vast majority of boats currently using the parks. If Long truly sought to cut pollution, he would target the outboard engines that are used in far greater numbers than personal watercraft.

Stephan Andrania
American Watercraft Association
Forthill Ranch, California


 

Teach Your Children Well

Why is it that the acts deemed “activist” in your “Top 10 Activist Campuses” (September/ October) are predominantly based on gaining onetime media attention, with an emphasis on corporate negligence? I do not want to disparage the work and effort of the students profiled; it takes courage and perseverance to do what they did. I simply want to point out that social activism is also about long-term, multilevel, systemic change.

Gettysburg College, where I teach, is far from an enclave of radical activism. Yet almost half the student body of 2,300 volunteered for local and national service projects last year, and our education curriculum encourages every future teacher to help less-advantaged youth and adults. I donÕt suggest that Gettysburg College is a “better” activist campus. But why should high-profile, one-time, corporate-focused activism be any more legitimate than small-scale, intergenerational, long-term engagement in the community?

The real Mother Jones worked for sustained and institutional remedies. It behooves a magazine of your character and reputation to rethink what it might mean to truly be an “activist campus.”

Dan W. Butin
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania


 

Time Out

I was enjoying Sue Halpern’s description of time-sharing programs as a wonderful way to de-emphasize the acquisition of stuff at the expense of humanity (“Cultural Currency,” September/October). Then I hit this sentence: “In Chicago, elementary school children earn time dollars for tutoring other kids, and get a computer after 100 hours of service.” Aargh! What a perversion of a terrific idea. Child tutors can now view slower children as necessary raw materials in their quest for the big prize-a machine. By turning the tutoring into a chore standing in the way of the big payoff, the compassionate act of teaching another human being becomes a necessary hardship. With just a little imagination, schools could change the equation: If tutored students volunteered their own services to the school or community, everyone would win.

Alan Thomas
Miami, Florida


 

Nuclear Politics

Is Nevada’s Yucca Mountain the best possible place to store high-level nuclear waste (“Nuclear Roulette,” September/October)? Certainly not. It’s just the best place with a population small enough that its political objections can be easily overridden. The big problem in nuclear waste disposal is political, not technical-no one wants it in their backyard. Better the chance of a leak in the next 30,000 years at Yucca Mountain than the near certainty of a leak in the next 30 years at one or more of the temporary storage sites currently located behind nuclear facilities.

Sidney J. Jolly
San Diego, California