Banks of the Yangtze

Karen Cook's exposé of China's Three Gorges Dam ["Dam Shame," April 4] is a good overview of the greatest socio-eco-destructive project ever undertaken, being completed with our money via scurrilous U.S. investment banks.

As the author of the book Three Gorges of the Yangtze: Grand Canyons of China, and as someone who has worked in the Three Gorges region for many years, I feel that the compounded tragedy is that this monumental "Great Wall Across the Yangtze" is not likely to produce its intended benefits of flood control and power generation due to geological and engineering problems.

In that event, the project will not be able to pay back investors, perhaps becoming the debt that breaks the fragile back of the Chinese economy—with worldwide repercussions. As Dai Qing, a journalist once imprisoned for her opposition to the dam, said: "If the Gorges could speak, they would cry for mercy!"

Rip Hayman
Greenwich Village

Degenerate Government

Reading Frank Serpico's "Why Safir Must Resign" [March 28], alas, confirms all that I have heard concerning the present New York City administration's war on blacks, Latinos, and entartet Kunst (the Nazi term for "degenerate art"). I desperately hope those politicians here in Scandinavia who have become enamored of the media representation of Giuliani's zero-tolerance policies will think again before reimporting this version of our native European fascism.

Let us also hope that voters will refrain from elevating Giuliani to higher office and that he is never placed within striking reach of the position of U.S. attorney general. That such a man could come to be entrusted with the defense of civil liberties is a frightening prospect!

Dr. M. Henri Day
Molde, Norway

Louisville Slugger

Re Frank Serpico's article "Why Safir Must Resign": Louisville mayor Dave Armstrong did not fire police chief Gene Sherrard "when two of his men shot and killed an unarmed black motorist (suspected of car theft)." That occurred nearly a year ago, and the officers were cleared by a grand jury. The chief was fired because he chose to honor both officers at a banquet this February and did not notify the mayor about it until the day before. The day after the banquet, the mayor took action.

Chief Sherrard certainly was either clueless or insensitive to the city's large African American population, however, and most Louisvillians seem to support the mayor. A gutsy but necessary move by Armstrong. I too don't see it happening with Rudy G.

Patrick Reed
Frankfort, Kentucky


Lenora Todaro's article "Hire Education" [March 21], on "labor struggles" at NYU, hides a bigger context: Workers of color have fought NYU for the past three years over its racist construction hiring. When asked to join the fight, the NYU grad and faculty union organizers were silent—even when NYU was threatening to expel students for trying to fight this racism. The construction union bureaucrats were quiet too. They're too busy collaborating with real estate developers to keep women and people of color out of jobs.

This collaboration has paid off big time for the developers—excluded groups have been forced to take nonunion work so that now the unions control fewer than half the sites in the city. It seems these people haven't changed. The unions bemoan the unsafe conditions of nonunion jobs, yet put nonunion workers' lives in danger by calling them "scabs."

The professors and grad students build their careers by academically redefining the word "work" instead of organizing on common ground with the majority of people outside the ivory tower. And the so-called Workers Rights Consortium is selling undergrads on the idea that "independent monitors"—even more bureaucrats to be hired—will rescue sweatshop victims in exotic lands so distant that it makes us forget to keep fighting for ourselves right here in the U.S. The reason for all the big show is simple. NYU is now one of the largest landowners and employers in the city.

The expansion, which has displaced much of the Latino community from the Lower East Side, isn't going to stop until the rent and job market in lower Manhattan is practically controlled by NYU. Construction unions and academic elites are hoping this fight will get them a safer haven in the heart of the beast. Apart from winning money for tenure seekers, unenforceable codes of conduct, useless independent monitors for NYU's factories, and construction sites that still exclude people of color and women from jobs, this way of "fighting" will only help NYU get a more liberal, more misleading public image. Meanwhile, most of us are shut out of jobs, shunted into sweatshops, and priced out of housing in our communities.  

Note: At the end of Ms. Todaro's article, she mentioned a "conference on sweatshops," but neglected to mention that it's being funded and organized by NYU administrators.

Gil Banks
Harlem Fight Back!

Lenora Todaro replies: A number of students I interviewed about race issues in connection with organizing a GA union would not speak on the record, saying that they needed to maintain solidarity until the NLRB reaches a verdict. Mr. Banks is correct, however, in noting that racial exclusion outside of the union at NYU needs to be addressed more fully. As for the labor conference, the original draft of my piece did identify NYU's American Studies Department as the organizer of the event, but that information was deleted from the final version for space reasons.

Bench Press

Nat Hentoff demonstrated a profound ignorance of the criminal justice system in New York with his attack on criminal court judge Martin Murphy ["Giuliani Justice," March 14].

It is ironic that an attack against the Giuliani crime policies should find such an inappropriate target. Judge Murphy is known around the court system as arguably the fairest judge.

The Times article which spawned Hentoff's column focused on a night-arraignment shift. An arraignment judge does not conduct trials or make determinations of guilt or innocence. An arraignment judge makes bail decisions and hands down sentences to clients who wish to plead guilty at this initial court appearance rather than return to court repeatedly to fight the charges.

Judge Murphy has ameliorated much of the damage caused by the wave of "quality of life" arrests by consistently offering time served or community service sentences to the overwhelmingly poor and minority clients who do not belong in jail for such petty offenses. The fact that Judge Murphy is so competent and efficient at his job that he can move a high volume of cases through arraignments is a great benefit to the people I represent.

As a public defender, it is incomprehensible to me that Hentoff would complain of illegal detention of a suspect for more than 24 hours when Judge Murphy does more than anyone to unclog the system. He is an independent-thinking judge who does not view his role as assisting the prosecution in carrying out Giuliani policies. The time-served pleas he offers are usually made over the objection of a prosecutor who recommends a longer jail sentence. Moreover, Judge Murphy can be counted on to make fair bail determinations when clients choose not to plead guilty, and frequently releases people in opposition to a prosecutor's bail request. If Hentoff would talk to lawyers in the trenches representing indigent clients, he would learn that Judge Murphy is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Charles Castellon

Nat Hentoff replies: For more than 40 years, I've watched arraignments in the New York City courts, most recently a few weeks ago. Truly conscientious judges don't give less than a minute to approve a plea. They know they're deciding future lives. They question the defendant, sometimes repeatedly, to make sure he or she understands the nature of the plea. Some defendants have language difficulties. I've also watched overburdened defense attorneys who met only briefly with a defendant before arraignment and didn't sufficiently explain the alternatives to the plea being offered. And for Mr. Castellon to say no more about the illegal incarceration of scores of suspects in the system as a whole for more than 24 hours—except to defend this judge—is a powerful further indictment of this city's alleged justice system.

Low Sierra

Stuart Auchincloss says [Letters, March 14] that environmentally minded New Yorkers are against "being distracted by factionalism" within the Sierra Club. Days after expressing that noble sentiment, Mr. Auchincloss presided at an Atlantic Chapter meeting that ousted more than a dozen longtime activists from Sierra Club offices to which we had been duly elected. I and many of the other targets were not even charged with any wrongdoing. It was a simple political power play.

The last Auchincloss purge was, as Karen Cook reported in the Voice ["Eco Action," February 22], set aside by the New York State Supreme Court. (The new one will be challenged as well.) We urged the chapter to address Mr. Auchincloss's rules violation under the same standards as were being applied to the New York City Group. The chapter rejected our proposal. The double standard is a stark example of the hypocrisy and, yes, factionalism that are undermining the Sierra Club's environmental work in New York.

Jim Lane
Former Chair
Sierra Club, New York City Group


Chart Buster

Without debating the handsomeness of Joan Jett's concentration camp 'do, I must take exception to Georgia Christgau's assertion that the I Love Rock 'n' Roll album "entered the charts at number one and stayed there for eight weeks" ["Freedom Act," March 28].

Only in the land of wishful thinking. The single of the same name did top the chart, but Billboard never counted the album higher than number two, where it spent three weeks.

Ira Robbins


I was surprised to see Michael Musto's column in your March 21 issue about the drag magician, Miss Brandall. And I thought I was the only one!

I have performed in Las Vegas, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. Although I now generally work for straight showrooms, I did 14 years of comedy clubs, nightclubs, and gay bars—touring the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with my own full-illusion show.

I call myself a comedy magician who just happens to wear a dress.

Steve Daly
Nelspruit, South Africa
a/k/a "Bonnie Bitch" (for gay audiences)
"Tiny Bubbles" (for straight showrooms)
Las Vegas, Nevada

Out an About

While I very much enjoyed Wista Jeanne Johnson's article "Walk on the Mild Side" [March 21] about New York City's hiking and walking clubs, I was surprised to see no mention of the Sundance Outdoor Adventure Society, the gay and lesbian outdoor club that will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year with a spectacular jamboree in September.

David Lucas
Yonkers, New York


Staff writer Mark Schoofs, whose eight-part series on AIDS in Africa appeared in the Voice in November and December, 1999, has been accepted to give an oral presentation at the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, in July. Schoofs's talk, "The Media Is the Message: A Case Study in AIDS Journalism," will draw on his 13 years of reporting on AIDS and other medical issues.

See articles on AIDS by Mark Schoofs.

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