Justice For Ashcroft
Contrary to what James Ridgeway reports in Mondo Washington, it is too early for the National Abortion Federation to determine whether John Ashcroft's Justice Department is vigorously enforcing the laws protecting abortion providers and their patients from violence ["John Ashcroft, Good Guy," March 20]. NAF was an active member of a coalition of more than 200 progressive organizations that opposed Ashcroft's nomination for attorney general because we believed, based on his past record, that his extreme anti-choice ideology would prevent him from vigorously enforcing the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and other laws protecting abortion providers.
The Justice Department under Janet Reno made it a priority to apprehend those responsible for committing acts of violence against abortion providers, and took actions that deterred extreme forms of violence. We are still concerned that we will not have that kind of support from Ashcroft. The lives of those who provide safe, legal abortion care to women depend on the continued enforcement of laws by the Justice Department and the Task Force. As the professional association of abortion providers, we will be the first to speak out whenand only whenwe know whether the Justice Department is doing its job.
Vicki Saporta, Executive Director
National Abortion Federation
Although I read with interest Nick Mamatas's story on iUniverse and Xlibris ["Attack of the Living Slush Pile," March 20], I take issue with the article's lack of distinction between vanity presses and print-on-demand (POD) publishers.
As Mamatas indicates, vanity presses are quick-buck operations, which generally do not support their authors. However, print-on-demand publishers charge significantly less than vanity presses, and some of the better POD publishers actively market the works of their authors.
While I do not totally disagree that some of these books lack merit, consider the positive side of POD publishing: Authors who have been overlooked in the bureaucracy and elitism that is traditional publishing have been given a chance, the author retains all rights to his work, and the books do not go out of print.
Nick Mamatas replies: Some PODs claim that they allow their authors to retain all rights, but simply by distributing books in exchange for royalties, rights areby common definition of the termbeing exhausted. It will take a court case to untangle the claims of the PODs with regard to how publication rights are usually defined. Mr. Ryhal is correct that PODs are often cheaper than traditional vanities, but since PODs do not have to print more than a few books for many authors, one should expect a lower price. However, a low-margin sucker deal is still a sucker deal.
Hannah Glover and Erica Pearson's article on guns in Brooklyn ["Young Gun," March 27] was interesting, but clunkers in the text spoiled it for me.
I don't know what kind of gun Derrick Jones got at age 14, but it's very unlikely that it was "a nickel-plated .380 Glock"Glocks are known chiefly for their extensive use of plastic. Moreover, federal laws restrict purchases of .380 Glocks to law enforcement agencies.
And whoever Jones bought his new gun from in Virginia is violating federal law, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Even if there were no federal law, according to state law Virginia dealers can sell only long guns to out-of-state residents, and then only to residents of contiguous statesof which New York is not one.
Glover and Pearson also wrote that " 'Straw buyers' are people who buy guns in bulk legally in Southern states, where laws are more lenient, and then turn the weapons over to secondary buyers, often from the North, at a handsome profit." Straw buyers can be easily tracked down: The ATF receives a form recording the name, address, and phone number of anyone who buys more than one handgun at a time.
Finally, Virginia's gun buyers have been limited to one gun a month for some timeto eliminate the allegation of straw purchasing. I strongly suspect that Jones's statements to Glover and Pearson that he purchased four guns there is a case of a ghetto lad having fun bullshitting a couple of credulous reporters.
Michael J. Dix
San Jose, California
Hannah Glover and Erica Pearson reply: The section of federal law to which Dix alludes states: "Federal firearms licensees are generally prohibited from transferring firearms to persons who do not reside in the State where the licensee's premises are located. . . . " While Virginia does have a one-gun-per-month law, Jones told us he bought his guns on separate occasions. And while it is true that gun dealers are required to notify the ATF when individuals purchase more than one gun at a time, because of the number of dealers, absolute enforcement is impossible. According to the ATF's National Crime Gun Trace Report issued on November 30, 2000, 80 percent of those guns traced in New York City during 1999 were tracked to sources out of state. With respect to the first gun Jones remembers receiving, he was told it was a nickel-plated Glock by the man who got him into the business nine years ago, when he was 14.
Lone Star Stand-Up
Thanks for Jennifer Gonnerman's article on stand-up comic Randy Credico's fight against the Rockefeller drug laws ["Seizing the Spotlight," March 20]. Credico has also been influential as far away as our little town of Tulia, Texas (population 5000), where he helped expose a racist drug sting which indicted 43 people for selling powder cocaine. Forty of those indicted were African American. Others were closely associated with the African American community. Thanks, Randy, for helping us expose that injustice.
With reference to Sharon Lerner's article "Air Wars" [March 27], I want to declare a citizen's war against state governments that willingly and knowingly jeopardize their citizens' health, as Governor George Pataki is doing in New York and as my former governor, George W. Bush, did in Texas!
I had asthma prior to moving to Dallas, but in Dallas I got so ill that I was using anti-asthmatic medication around the clock. Bush's first act was to suspend the operations of auto emission test stations that had been built all over Texas. When Bush canceled that effort, saying that he wanted voluntary compliance, the state was immediately sued for $160 million for the lost income and cost associated with the construction and staffing of those stations.
Fortunately, after three years, my husband took a job transfer to New Mexico, which got us out of the toxic air of Dallas. I am now functioning well, no longer unable to work, and breathing much better in the high desert air of Albuquerque. I say good riddance to voluntary compliance and grandfathered polluting plants.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Life & Death Struggle
In "Queer on Death Row" [March 20], Richard Goldstein writes: "After all, a death sentence is never mandatory. No matter how heinous the crime, a jury can choose to spare the murderer's life."
Well, true. Death sentences are indeed imposed by juries, not on them. However, in Texas, where Calvin Burdine awaits lethal injection, juries cannot sentence a person to life without parole. In capital murder cases, the jury has two options: death, or a life sentence for which the person may be paroled after 40 years. During the past several legislative sessions (and the current one, which ends in May), several legislators introduced bills that would permit life sentences without parole, thus allowing for the possibility of a reduced number of death sentences in punishment-happy Texas. None of the bills were passed in previous sessions, and those that are up in this session are not expected to pass.
Ralph Stanley, Where Art Thou?
In Robert Cantwell's review of the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? ["Dream of a Miner's Child," March 20], he wrote: "What can the Coens have been thinking when they planted Ralph Stanley's voice . . . under the red satin hood of a Klan Wizard, chillingly declaiming the verses of the hard-shell dirge 'Oh Death'?"
I, too, was initially horrified, even though I knew to expect it before I saw the movie. I also shook my head at the use of Dan Tyminski to sing Stanley's signature song, "Man of Constant Sorrow." But plot sometimes dictates these sorts of choices. Can't blame the Coens for not wanting the voice of a 74-year-old man coming out of George Clooney. The Klan scene is arguably the movie's most powerful, due in no small part to the song and Stanley's treatment of it. Short of the late Roscoe Holcomb, can you think of another male singer who could have given it a more otherworldly edge? A disturbing experience for Stanley fans, yes, but a plus for the scene and the movie.
As a writer, I am extremely concerned about the issue of artistic integrity as discussed in Mark Holcomb's review of Traffik ["Trade-Offs," March 20]. I am also painfully aware of marketability (his comments re: Traffic), and the fact that actors, writers, and directors cannot live on artistic integrity alone. A script must be marketable to become a film, and a film must have box office appeal to keep other creative people working. For our "pure" artistic outlets, we rely on indies, but the fact is, most writers and actors want to make and/or sell big films. My point: Judge a work for what it is.
Asheville, North Carolina
A Myrmidon in Minneapolis
I picked up the February 27 Voice and turned to Michael Feingold's weekly essay only to find a headline that said: "Over 30: After Three Decades in the Reviewer's Chair, What's Left to Say? Lots," and I thought oh God, no! He's gonna quit. I was relieved to find that the piece was a summing up so far, not a farewell. People don't often, I have come to tardily realize, get the praise they deserve. That is especially true for our country's artists and an almost unheard of phenomenon for critics. Feingold's essay reminded me of how much I have enjoyed his opinions of the theater for many years, and I belatedly thank him. His knowledge of theater history and traditions, his appreciation of its uniqueness and idiosyncrasies, and his evaluations of its more recent growth pains (the emphasis often being on the pain) have inspired me. And challenged me. And pissed me off. I live in Minneapolisa city about whose theater Feingold has made a crack or two from time to time (not without justice).
Thanks for soldiering on. I know it can't be easy to gird oneself for another evening of probable disappointment, trying to maintain an excitement, objectivity, or even hope. Know that you have a myrmidon in the Midwest eager to hear bulletins from the front.
In Mondo Washington ["The New Debtor Prison," March 27], James Ridgeway writes that "Florida senator Bill McCollum" is reported to have received $225,000 from the credit card industry. The former representative and House impeachment manager lost the Florida Senate race.
Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Yogi See, Yogi Do
Although MiRi Park's "The Real Cost of Keeping Fit" mentioned the rising popularity of yoga classes at gyms and dance studios, it left out a very popular variantthe yoga video [Mind Body Spirit, March 20]. Yoga videos have started many a yogi on the path, and inspired them to take classes and learn to do it correctly. For those who do yoga exclusively from videos, an occasional class will bring a great improvement in your practice. If you can only attend classes sporadically, Iyengar yoga is a style that emphasizes teaching correct form and, therefore, is very good for us "VCR yogis."
Planet of the Apes
Thank you for Mark Dery's insightful "Gorilla Warfare" [VLS, March 13], which supports the belief that Planet Earth would have been better off if the human primate had not risen to a position of dominance. It confirmed that absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is no guarantee that things would have been better without humans, but it seems the balance of life systems with their environment would have suffered less.
Swain, New York
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