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By Jon Campbell
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As John Ashcroft's Republican primary opponent for U.S. senator in Missouri in 2000 (I have since moved to California), I agree with almost everything in James Ridgeway's article "Clear and Present Danger" [January 16].
Indeed, Ashcroft "doesn't dance": Having fun is a sin, and Ashcroft is not a fun guy, except for when he's serving his homemade ice cream at Republican fundraisers. But I don't think he's as racist as he's being portrayed. Being against affirmative action doesn't make you racist. And I don't think Ashcroft's opposition to Justice Ronnie White was related to race. Quite frankly, there are no competent judges on the Missouri Supreme Court, black or white.
For Ashcroft, there's only one true religion, and that's his own. He isn't going to protect rights he considers to be sinfulunless the sinners contribute to the Republican Party (as in alcohol, tobacco, and firearms). Ashcroft is very much an "us vs. them" personality, and there's no room in his world for those who believe differently than he does.
Those of us who lived in Missouri in the 1980s remember Ashcroft as the attorney general involved in the landmark Nancy Cruzan "right to die" case. Nancy Cruzan was in a persistent vegetative state for eight years after being injured in a car accident. Ashcroft fought the family's efforts to remove her feeding tube all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he eventually lost. He essentially used the Cruzan family as a prop to position himself as a hero in a life-saving fantasy.
I think that John Ashcroft is better suited to follow in his father's footsteps and become a preacher, and not use the office of U.S. attorney general to force his religious views on the rest of us.
San Francisco, California
The Ashcroft Principle
Although I am not a Republican, I think that John Ashcroft was unfairly pounced upon by James Ridgeway in the article "Clear and Present Danger." Every attorney general is asked to enforce laws that he or she may not espouse, just as every attorney is inspired by ethic, if not gain, to represent clients whose guilt is suspected or known. That is the nature of adversarial law.
The people of a majority of the states voted for the conservative George Bush, who was opposed by most voters in dense urban areas. So? The Republicans have won the prerogative to select conservatives who do not agree with the previously dominant administration position on such matters as abortion, gay rights, and gun laws.
John Ashcroft acted with principle and with sensitivity after he narrowly lost the Missouri senatorial election to the late governor Mel Carnahan. Extrapolating from his behavior in that situation, he might be expected to become one of the most fair and upright attorneys general we have ever had. Let's lay back and see how this plays out. The country doesn't need constructed subjunctive problems; we have plenty of real problems that require our concentration.
Dale J. Milnes
For Christ's Sake
Re James Ridgeway's piece on John Ashcroft: As a Christian, I am no more what Ridgeway calls a "Christer" than a person of color is a "nigger" or a Jew is a "kike." Ridgeway's word choice is unbelievably offensive and morally reprehensible. I understand that not everyone shares my faith, but I know better than to call those who don't "damned" or "sinners." One of the biggest problems in U.S. politics today is the tendency of the adherents of opposing views to demonize each other.
North Hollywood, California
Who is this left-wing radical Rouven Gueissaz, and why is he spewing so much hate against John Ashcroft?!? [Gueissaz did additional reporting on the Ashcroft article.] Don't your reporters even pretend to be objective?
Steven M. Volchko
Peace of Mind
Todd Gitlin blames the "naive purists" of the peace movement for Richard Nixon's election in 1968 and a million Vietnamese deaths that followed [Letters, January 9]. He overlooks a million deaths that came before.
We naive purists actively backed Lyndon Johnson in 1964. By mid 1968 he had increased the U.S. presence in Vietnam to its peak of 550,000 and was submitting Indochina to the heaviest bombing in history, to chemical warfare, and to countless crimes like My-Lai. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, who favored withdrawal, had been assassinated. In Chicago, Hubert Humphrey ignored the police pogrom and the anti-Semitic mouthings of Mayor Richard Daley and accepted the nomination. Until the last week of the campaign, he went along with LBJ's effort to "bomb Hanoi to the negotiating table." So he lost the election.
To lay the blame on the peace marchers is abominable.
John L. Hess
Editor's Note: John L. Hess wrote about the Paris peace talks for The New York Times from 1968 to 1972.
Back to the Rock
Over the last few days, I've taken some time to read Jennifer Gonnerman's article, "Roaming Rikers Island" [December 19], or as I call it, The Rock. I say a few days because every time I pick it up and read a few paragraphs, I stop and put it down as visions of the three years I spent there play back in my mind.
I happen to be part of the small percentage of whites on Rikers Island that Gonnerman wrote about, and I had to endure everything she described and much more. I awaited trial for 28 months in the Beacon (the "Bloods building"). I often cleaned up after slashings and stabbings.
That island is unfit for any human being. It is always dangerous, and the COs [correction officers] only add fuel to the fire.
Frankie [Last Name Withheld]
Jazz And Pops
Gary Giddins [Weather Bird, January 9] laments the current absence of a galvanizing jazz figure such as Duke, Miles, or Coltrane; this is a misguided notion. It is the very absence of such a force that has allowed so many of today's musicians to follow their own paths. The climate of the jazz community has most definitely changed since the heyday of musicians like Clark Terry, Sonny Rollins, and Roy Haynes, but not for the worse. Today's musicians may not necessarily have innovation foremost in mind; rather, they aim to make music that communicates to people.
Just recently, Kenny Werner, Ben Monder, and Dave Holland (to name three) performed such music to very receptive audiences. Perhaps Giddins's view that "what's past is prologue, text, and epilogue" has come from spending too many evenings at Lincoln Center ruminating on the current lack of innovation in jazz instead of at more contemporary-minded venues. I encourage Giddins to check out any CD by musicians such as Brad Mehldau, Dave Douglas, or Matt Wilson and reexamine his view that "the most resourceful, energetic, and irreverent jazz musicians are over 65."
A fundamental reason why dead jazz musicians outsell their living counterparts is that pundits such as Gary Giddins and Ken Burns ignore the vitality and originality of so much of today's music, simply because it does not fit into their antiquated notion of what "jazz" is.
Gary Giddins replies: I am familiar with all these musicians and have written about most of them, but thanks for the encouragement. Incidentally, Clark Terry, Sonny Rollins, and Roy Haynes are still having their heyday.
J.A. Lobbia's excellent article "One-Track Mind" [January 2], about the High Line debate in Chelsea, was informative as far as it went: Some people (including Mayor Rudolph Giuliani) want to tear down the stretch of track, while the self-styled Friends of the High Line want to turn it into a promenade. But what Lobbia and the dueling Chelseaites ignored was the best environmental and economic use of the High Line: carrying freight into and out of Manhattan island.
Freight trains could unload in several locations along the West Side of Manhattan, including the industrial buildings through which they run in Chelsea. In the 1930s, in order to reduce noise and smoke, freight tracks were enclosed from 72nd Street to Harlem by Robert Moses, and parkland was built over the tracks. High Line tracks in Chelsea could be treated similarly.
The Shorewalkers group has been working on a plan for creating a six-mile-long freshwater lake between the Bronx and Manhattan with an 800-acre park around it. One of the many benefits of our proposed Harlem Lake Park and Causeways Project would be the development of dependable freight train tracks into Manhattan. Ninety-seven percent of the goods we Manhattanites use are carried to New York Island by diesel trucks that spew poisons into our air, destroy our streets, clog traffic, grate on our ears, and kill pedestrians. To reduce urban diesel truck traffic we must have freight trains.
Reactivating the West Side Freight Line would improve the environment and reduce the cost of moving goods into and out of the city. To use these strategically placed High Line tracks for any lesser purpose would be detrimental to New York City's future.
Cy A. Adler
The Ballad of Reading Gal
Having read Carol Cooper's review of Go Girl! comics ["Pretty Persuasion," January 9], I couldn't agree more about the lack of a demographic readership in the comic book industry. My daughter has a learning disability. Go Girl! has helped her to overcome the hurdles that have held down her reading comprehension levels.
Thank you for Tom Robbins's detailed story about my former classmate at Brooklyn College, Roger Toussaint, the recently elected president of the Transport Workers Union ["Underground Rumblings," November 28]: a great storyvery informative. It painted a vivid picture of a charismatic union leader with grassroots leanings.
Yinka G. Stanford
Thank you for Tristan Taormino's column on Cleo Dubois's new video, The Pain Game [Pucker Up, January 9]. As a psychotherapist and sex therapist working in a variety of alternative sex and gender communities, I often hear how difficult it is to communicate an experience that may have no verbal equivalent. The same holds true for all of us who try to speak about whatever we find ineffable. Ms. Dubois has performed a service by speaking clearly, and not only to the choir; she has performed an educational service by showing the truth and not pandering to the least informed among her prospective audience.
William A. Henkin, Ph.D.
San Francisco, California
Let Us Spray
I recently came across Tristan Taormino's column on female ejaculation entitled "Girls Who Squirt" [Pucker Up, September 7, 1999]. Thanks for the evidence. I've always wondered what was "wrong" with me, and so have some men (always to their loss!). I have been hiding this information about myself for 30 years thinking I was a freakbut a lucky freak who, with the right partner, has a great time. I will look for those porn videos. I would love to see evidence of a similar female! Thank you, Voice. Now I can be proud of my "fountain."