By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
UP FRONT ON THE DOWN LOW
Regarding Kai Wright's article "The Great Down-Low Debate: A New Black Sexual Identity May Be an Incubator for AIDS" [June 12]: "Down low" is another form of draga swagger, a sa-shay, a stance, a lingo, a wardrobe some wear to give the illusion of heterosexuality. In other words, it's another variation on a familiar station: the closet.
That it is being discussed and propagated as a "new black sexual identity" and oh-so conveniently linked to the catastrophic rise in HIV infections in African America is both laughable and tragic. Some of us still don't (or simply refuse to) get it: It isn't who you are (or aren't), but what you do (and don't do) that puts you at risk for catching the virus. And all of the contemptuous finger pointing that I've seen in the past few months being directed at the DL crowdthe majority of whom, in my experience, are gay, not bisexual or, like the DL brother quoted in the article, "just sexual" or "a freak"makes it clear that the blame game is far from over.
The message? Homosexualsno matter what they call themselves or masquerade as or purport not to beare responsible, while heterosexuals can find comfort in their ignorance, believing that it can't happen to them and it isn't their problem. Twenty years ago it was "a (white) gay disease." Today, it's "an (African American) DL disease." Old wine, new bottle, same denial.
James Earl Hardy
The writer is the author of the soon-to-be-released novel The Day Eazy-E Died, which deals with AIDS from a DL man's perspective.
FORCE OF HOBBIT
Julian Dibbell's article on J.R.R. Tolkien ["Lord of the Geeks," June 12] was interesting and, on its own terms, mostly hard to argue with. But he got the broad perspective wrong. Dibbell reiterates and expands a fairly cogent argument against the worth of Tolkien as literature. Essentially, however, these are straw-man arguments.
Of course Tolkien has little value by the standards of 19th- and 20th-century mimetic literature, which mandate psychological depth, a distinctive rather than a transparent prose style, etc. However, from any perspective (especially historical), such standards represent a narrow and suffocating concept of what literature might be.
Tolkien himself made this argument in his essay "On Fairy Stories," where he spelled out the qualities one finds in fantastic tales that are absent from mundane fiction. The creation of an imagined world ("subcreation") is central. And, of course, for Tolkien and his readers, a goddamn great story has inherent wortha notion, as old as literature, that modernism and postmodernism have been in danger of forgetting. Tolkien was not trying to write a 20th-century novel; he was (by his own testimony) trying to write a myth for modern times.
Furthermore, the fears of Germaine Greer et al. to the contrary, the qualities one finds in Tolkien are not antithetical to those of mimetic literature, just different. There are plenty of people who read Tolkien one night and Nabokov the next. There are even writerslike Ursula K. Le Guin and the incomparable Gene Wolfewhose work evokes the pleasures of both approaches.
No doubt Julian Dibbell predicted a response from droves of "geeks" who likely feel bitch-slapped by the the title of his article. Perhaps not. Many with an enduring affection for Tolkien's seminal work The Lord of the Rings are quite used to being placed on the cultural defensive. Obviously, enthusiasm for "The Trilogy" certifies membership within a club of pudgy, pale, sexless losers. One should avoid any public, unqualified praise of Tolkien, especially among the terminally hip and discerning literati. As the December movie opening approaches, uncloseted Tolkien enthusiasts will simply have to bear up to the eye-rolling condescension and inevitable priggish comments of their betters. Certainly, they (read: I) can always seek escape in the rolling hills of Middle Earth. For Tolkien's sincerity is a comforting tonic in an age of irony, neurotic self-absorption, cynicism, nihilism, postmodern ambiguity, and paralysis.
Julian Dibbell replies: I have my quibbles with Eric Van's argument for Tolkien's cultural merit, but mainly I wish he'd read my own closely enough to realize we're in rough agreement. When I wrote that The Lord of the Rings deserves consideration as "one of the defining literary creations of our age," I meant it. As for Brad Hendershott: When I wrote that geek culture demands serious attention for its contributions to the contemporary cultural landscape, I meant that too. Hendershott may define "geeks" as "losers," but I don't, and the only bitch-slapping intended was for those who do.
SHUL FOR SCANDAL
Re Geoffrey Gray's article "Crisis of Faith" [May 29]: No matter how they try to put a spin on it, Rabbi Joseph Singer, his family, and the organizations involved in trying to sell the Stanton Street Synagogue cannot explain away the major issue. They have no moral justification for selling a synagogue that is actively being used by its congregation, who come to the synagogue every day to pray.
As Mr. Gray noted, when the rabbi and his family attempted to secretly sell the synagogue and it was discovered by the congregation, the Singers justified it by saying that the proceeds would go to charity (there are questions about which charities they are and if the rabbi and his family will benefit). It also shows the arrogance and contempt the rabbi and his family have for the congregants, who supported the synagogue for a great many years before Rabbi Singer became associated with it.
Thanks to Mr. Gray's article, an attorney has come forward and is representing the congregants. The congregants intend to stop the Singers and various organizations allied with them in their shameful and sinful attempt to close and sell this active synagogue.
I wish to join many Lower East Siders in commending Geoffrey Gray for his article shedding light on the struggle to save the Stanton Street Synagogue.
Our synagogue was founded in 1913 as part of the teeming immigrant community of the Lower East Side. Its sacred walls witnessed war, the Depression, the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, good times, and bad times.
Its missioninterpreting God's statutes to a diverse and vibrant areawas its hallmark. We are so astonished by this attempted "murder" of our spiritual home that we are in shock. To us, the congregants, our synagogue was a link between heaven and earth, between the transient and the immortal, between the creator and creation.
Kudos to your reporter. He has sketched for us human shortcomings that the prophets taught about.
Lower East Side
Peter Noel's article about the 11-year-old problem child "J.J." was interesting, but while it went into detail about his actions, it didn't tell the reader much about why he behaved that way ["Rude Boy: The Making of a Schoolyard Sex Offender," June 19].
I'm sure it's difficult to get a complete picture of what may have caused "J.J." to lash out at others, but the feeble and unsubstantiated explanation given at the end of the article"The real culprits are the smut peddlers who robbed him of his innocence and force-fed him sex and violence"was inexcusable. It would be stating the obvious to say that millions of children play Nintendo and watch James Bond without exhibiting this type of behavior, but if Noel has forgotten that this is true, maybe it's not as obvious as I would like to believe.
Scapegoating entertainment must be hipper than I thought. Or, as I am inclined to believe in this case, perhaps it's just a convenient alternative for a writer who failed to uncover the actual root of this child's emotional problems. Either way, this outdated notion doesn't belong in print.
In "Aborting Crime: Fewer Fetuses, Fewer Felonies?" [Higher Ed, June 12], Norah Vincent falsely alleges that findings of the Stanford study linking legalized abortion to decreased crime are "being hailed as a victory for the abortion lobby." In reality, reproductive rights organizations (if we indeed are the "abortion lobby") have neither embraced this research nor relied on its controversial findings.
Furthermore, the right to choose abortion is not the "only choice on offer" by the reproductive rights community, as stated by Ms. Vincent. Women's reproductive freedom includes rights to make healthy and informed decisions about their reproductive lives and to have access to comprehensive reproductive health and family planning information and services to make these decisions. It is a woman's ability to continue with as many wanted pregnancies or to terminate as many unwanted pregnancies as she feels is right for herself and her family.
By gaining the right to control their fertility, women have vastly improved their own health conditions as well as those of their children. Access to reproductive health and family planning services and information has enabled women to make these very personal decisions, and to take charge of their educations, their careers, and ultimately, their lives.
Norah Vincent ("Aborting Crime') fails to understand that most pro-choice people do not advocate abortion in preference to other forms of family planning. Nor do they assume that those living in poverty do not have control over their reproductive habits. There is no "selective population control." The term "population control" is totally misleading and implies bigotry.
Nobody likes abortion. Most of us in the pro-choice movement see it only as a last resort. I agree with Vincent that providing family planningincluding education, contraception, and abstinence counseling to every-onewho wants itis the way to go. Family planning reduces the rate of abortion. Pro-choice people especially want to eliminate illegal, unsafe abortions.
It's rare for the cultures of Papua New Guinea to be taken seriously in the American press, and I appreciated the time and care Robert Christgau took in his piece about my Bosavi recordings ["Chasing Waterfalls," May 15]. But I'd like to address a few misunderstandings.
Neither I nor Bosavi musicians regard the new guitar bands as a threat to traditional music, and while a few songs deal with physical abuse, it is by no means as "pervasive" in Bosavi domestic life as Christgau inferred. Also, the gisalo song Christgau attributes to Halawa was in fact by Aiba.
As Christgau understands, Bosavi music is created by distinct individuals, and they deserve individual credit.
Department of Anthropology
New York University
Robert Chico [Letters, June 12] claims that juror Paula Thomson's actions in holding out and hanging a jury (11-1 for conviction), and then bailing out the defendant (an accused drug dealer), have drawn attention to the Rockefeller drug laws.
Thomson's strange attachment to defendant Calvin Baker appears to be personal. She told Jennifer Gonnerman ["The Education of a Juror," May 22] that she didn't believe the evidence against Baker. However, in using her own money to bail him out, she showed herself to be a zealot obsessed with her power to manipulate the judicial process.
Such fanaticism demonstrates the need for changes in New York State's Constitution that would allow criminal convictions with less than unanimous juries. Some states have done this, and there are few complaints that justice has suffered.
Michael J. Gorman
The writer is a lieutenant in the New York Police Department and an attorney.
I turned being laid up with a foot infection for a week recently into an opportunity to read through the last six months of Michael Feingold's theater pieces. He is, very simply, unmatched, the best we've got, the ne plus ultra of his art and craft. I don't always agree with him (who cares? That's for reviewers, not critics), but no one else out there combines his elegant writing, encyclopedic knowledge, keen judgments, moral passion, and humor both biting and hilarious. I'm looking forward to the next 30 years of his commentary.
Andrew Patner, Critic-at-Large
WFMT Fine Arts Radio