The Beast and The Brightest
Norah Vincent ["You're an Animal," Higher Ed, April 3] rightly points out that a nonhuman animal in a sexual encounter with a human being would most likely be in that situation only because of what Princeton professor Peter Singer refers to in his book review-essay on bestiality as the "inexhaustible variety of human sexual desire" imposing itself on a powerless creature. As Singer does not document animals in their natural habitats seeking out sex with members of other animal species, including ours, we can only infer that bestiality is a distorted behavior within the context of human domination.
However, Vincent stresses a domination that is based on the notion that nonhuman animals as a class have "the mental and emotional capacity of a child" rather than on the characteristics of captivity: the limited options, inability to escape, physical coercion, and psychological pressure that captivity imposes on a captive individual.
Not only is it the height of arrogance to reduce the rest of creation to the level of planetary idiocy; it's absurd. Adult nonhuman animals, from gorillas to guinea fowl, negotiate complex environments every day. They form adult relationships with their peers. They raise and teach their young. They socialize, provide nurturing, and groom themselves and each other (in birds it's called preening). As functional adults, nonhuman animals perform a multiplicity of cognitive acts, including practical decision-making, that are not exhibited by human children or the mentally impaired. Nonimpaired adult animals embody such a repertoire of experiences accompanying their growth that it is nonsense to equate it with the experiential repertoire of babies and the cognitively disabled. Peter Singer's own 18th-century philosophic model, Jeremy Bentham, wrote on behalf of animals' rights that a "full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old."
Bentham did not mean to denigrate human infants, but rather to observe that, as soon as we stop to think about other animals, we must justly perceive that an enormous amount of intelligence and emotional maturity are required in their lives to carry on. Fair pleading demands that we stop "defending" other animals from ourselves by calling them "dumb." Just as human verbal language is one of the many languages of life, so our particular type of intelligence is one among many. If people feel threatened by the idea of equality beyond human primatology, that is our problem to solve. Nonhuman animals should not have to pay for our "kindness" as well as our cruelty.
Karen Davis, President
United Poultry Concerns
Re Norah Vincent's "You're an Animal": Friends of Animals finds Peter Singer's position that it is acceptable for humans and animals to have sex with each other shocking and disgusting. Bestiality is wrong in part because the animal cannot meaningfully consent to sex with a human. In this sense, bestiality is wrong for the same reason pedophilia is wrong. Children cannot consent to sexual contact and neither can animals.
Priscilla Feral, President
Friends of Animals
Re "You're an Animal": An amorous creature I once dog-sat started to eagerly sample my nether regions as soon as I got in bed. I dissuaded him at first, but he seemed to want it badly. So I consented. It was a mutually pleasurable encounter about which I have no guilty feelings. Whether interspecies sex constitutes rape is conditional, as in any other case, on consent. I am a vegetarian, and condemn cruelty to animals.
In her article "Broome Street Stakes Rise" [March 27], reporter Chisun Lee doesn't let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Despite our detailed half-hour-long conversation, she penned the disingenuous statement that the SoHo Alliance is "a coalition of real estate interests, retailers, and residents." In fact, we are a totally volunteer, nonprofit, community association that represents the artist residents of Soho and have fought a multitude of battles against powerful real estate interests and inappropriate business enterprises in defense of our community.
The SoHo Alliance sued World Farm not because they are Asian, but because they run an outlaw business, which recently, as Lee notes, was held in contempt of court. Rather than expose these profiteers, she continues to perpetuate World Farm's only line of defense: lofan [Cantonese for "foreigner"] racism.
Furthermore, the ridiculous remark by Dan Liu of the group CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities that we are "elitist Soho loft dwellers with . . . stereotypes of uncivilized Asians" is itself a classic example of stereotyping people whom she has never met, spoken to, or reached out to.
But maybe Liu has a point. I do have stereotypes of Asians. I admit it.
I have the stereotype that Asians are from a culture that prizes family values, doting on their young and caring for their elderly, with low divorce rates and crime rates. I have the stereotype that Asians are hard-working, enterprising achievers who excel in both the arts and science. I have the stereotype that Asian culture was around when Europeans were still living in caves, and that its influence upon Western culture, arts, cuisine, science, and technology is incalculable.
You have a problem with that, Ms. Liu?
Sean Sweeney, Director
I was alarmed by the way charges of racism were leveled in Chisun Lee's article "Broome Street Stakes Rise." Lee did not provide enough evidence to support the claim that Puffin Room Gallery owner Carl Rosenstein's campaign against World Farm is racially motivated.
As an Asian American performance artist, I've performed at Puffin Room a number of times. I participated in a poetry event in conjunction with the exhibit "The Art of Resistance: Social Realists of the Philippines," commemorating the centennial of the Philippine-American War. I've performed as part of Panata, a coalition of Filipino artists and cultural workers. I've performed as a member of the pan-Asian American performance collective Peeling. Rosenstein's support of these organizations and others like them runs counter to the allegations of anti-Asian racism. Lee chose to ignore this.
In fact, Lee seems to go out of her way to identify race in some parts of her piece but not in others. For example, she does not identify the "upstanding citizens" who vouched for Rosenstein's character. By leaving them unidentified, the assumption is left that they are white and of a similar economic class as Rosenstein. But at least one of those people who tried to contact Lee was Jin Auh, a female Korean American member of Peeling. Lee did not return her calls.
The article does not cite any evidence that Asian-owned businesses are the only ones targeted by the SoHo Alliance. The article seems to provide more rumors than facts. Unfortunately, in the case of allegations of racism, rumors are every bit as damaging.
Chisun Lee replies: If, as Bacalzo suggests, there is not enough evidence in the article to support the claim that Rosenstein's actions are racially motivated, that is because making that claim is not the point of the piece. Contrary to Bacalzo's assertion that Rosenstein's nonracist stance was not given ample attention, I gave considerable space to Rosenstein's own words and views. And as Sweeney will recall, it was he who pursued the issue of racism with me; his preoccupation with the topicindicated it was worth exploring. Indeed, worries over being unfairly targeted on the basis of certain characteristicswhich these writers dismiss as "rumors" or reverse stereotypingare no less important to report than concerns that a business is endangering a community with reckless behavior. Surely these respondents, with their sympathy for and identification with Asian communities, understand that.
Re Peter Noel's "Puffy Betrayed Me" [March 27]: Let me make sure I have this straight. Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow, age 21, entered a crowded nightclub with a loaded handgun, which he subsequently discharged under ambiguous circumstances (depending upon whose story is to be believed).
Now comes Conrad Muhammad, former Nation of Islam leader known as the "hip hop minister," who points out that Barrow "was just a kid" and, by implication, asks us to sympathize with Barrow's "tremendous stress" regarding the verdict. Forgetting for the moment the stress (and injuries) Barrow's actions caused other patrons of the club, I am astonished that Noel did not use this opportunity to comment on how Sean "Puffy" Combs's privileged posse was able to get any guns past security and into the club in the first place.
I guess the Voice joins the mainstream media in deferring to celebrity. Back in the day, hip-hop didn't need "ministers" defending its artists against charges such as these. Let's hope this incident is not indicative of what Muhammad's group, Conscious Hip Hop Activism Necessary for Global Empowerment (CHHANGE), might continue to rationalize.
Bay Shore, New York
Sean "Puffy" Combs used to be my idol. After reading Peter Noel's "Puffy Betrayed Me" [March 27], I see he's just a back-stabbing fake. I wanted to cry after reading the story. Puffy betrayed Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow after having been his mentor by denying that they had had a special friendship. Then Combs had the nerve not to want anything to do with him. That's just straight up wrong. I've loved Combs's Bad Boy Entertainment, bought every album by every artist, and when Shyne came out I instantly fell in love with him and his style.
Now that Puffy has turned his back on Shyne, I won't be buying many more Bad Boy records! Puffy, you've really disappointed me and shattered my whole image of you, and it hurts. Can't believe it went down like that.
St. Louis, Missouri
Re Robert Christgau's unbelievably sloppy item on the Jayhawks' album Smile [Consumer Guide, April 3]: How many mistakes can a professional make in a 13-line review? First, Christgau mentions Greg Olson, the supposed ex-Jayhawk. Does he mean the former Atlanta Brave or the Jayhawks' founder, Mark Olson? Embarrassingly, Christgau also misidentifies the band's new leader, Gary Louris, calling him Greg Lourie. And "Dud of the Month"? Why does Christgau bother trashing an album that was released in May of 2000 in March of 2001? A personal vendetta? This is a wonderfully effervescent pop album, which Christgau seems to dis on the basis that the Jayhawks have moved away from alt-country. (Gee, maybe they're tired of their brilliance being ignored in that confining category for the last 17 years.) This "review" is an insult to the Jayhawks and their fans.
Robert Christgau replies: The misspellings/misnomers are my shame, but I love music too much not to reiterate that Smile sucks. It first appeared in Consumer Guide as a Dud in August. I reviewed it at length because it finished in the Pazz & Jop top 40.
In Robert Sietsema's review of the restaurant Le Souk ["Night in Tunisia," March 27], he refers to "Tunis's modern Avenue de France." Modern indeed, and more modern than Sietsema's information! There has not been an "Avenue de France" for nearly five decades. The name was changed to Avenue Habib Bourguiba in 1956 shortly after Tunisia gained its independence from colonialist France to honor the architect of independence and Tunisia's first president.
Le Souk's menu seems to be an odd mixture (including an improbable Israeli couscous). To describe this potluck as mainly Tunisian and North African is to do a disservice to the superb Tunisian cuisine and to unsuspecting customers.
Robert Sietsema replies: I stand by my characterization of the restaurant's menu"an interesting mix of North African fare"and, by the way, the portion of the thoroughfare that runs west of Rue Nasser is still known as Avenue de France.
Due to a fact-checking error, the name of Sean Combs's latest album was referred to erroneously in Peter Noel's article "The 'Bad Boy Curse' " (April 3). The title of the album is Forever.
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