Published Letters to the Editor

The North Haven Citizen: (5/13/05)

Yale's undergraduate choral group the Spizzwinks(?) sang at Ridge Road School in North Haven this week (on 4/28). Picking up my daughter that afternoon I ran into one of her friends, an eight-year-old girl, sobbing on the bench outside the school's front door. The reason? She was one of a number of children who'd asked the choristers to sign autographs for them after the concert. Some lucky kids did get autographs, but when this girl approached the boys in the group she was simply refused. The reason for the refusal isn't clear. A mother--a friend of the girl's mother--approached the choristers and told them they'd made a girl cry by refusing to sign her paper. They shrugged. They looked away. Then one of the group offered an explanation of sorts: they'd come to the school out of the goodness of their hearts (their hearts, as it happened, were paid very well for the performance); if they'd been able to sell more CDs perhaps they'd sign autographs, but the school hadn't scheduled enough time for them; besides, they didn't have "five hours" to spend signing autographs. No matter that the boys were standing around idle for twenty to thirty minutes after their concert. No matter that signing autographs for all the children who were asking for them would only have taken a few minutes. No matter, apparently, that their unthinking boorishness made a little girl cry.

If Yale is interested in the reputation it enjoys in the greater New Haven community, its administration would do well to counsel its choristers to not act like divas when they leave campus, or at least when they represent the University before an audience of elementary school children. Perhaps when the Spizzwinks(?) boys grow to manhood and have children of their own they'll remember their hubris on this occasion and feel shame.

Newsweek: (1/14/02)

"As an agnostic myself, I read with interest Linda Angeloff Sapienza's essay. It reminded me of how surprised and pleased I was by a remark British Prime Minister Tony Blair made on Oct. 7, when he indicated that the events of September 11 were 'an attack on us all--on people of all faiths and people of none.' One rarely gets the sense when listening to politicians that moral society is peopled by atheists and agnostics as well as by the faithful."

Unpublished Letters to the Editor

People: "Hearts Behind Bars" (11/22/04)

How heartwarming that crusading Mothers of Incarcerated Sons founder Sherry Grace helped get an MIS member's son transferred to a prison closer to home. Having family close by is surely a comfort to the convict, who is serving a life sentence for two counts of first-degree murder. Any word on whether his victims are buried conveniently close to their parents' homes? (The "failure" of jailed criminals may be temporary, as Ms. Grace says at the end of your article, but the consequences of that failure are too often permanent.)

TV Guide: "A New Beginning" (3/27/04-4/2/04)

Back when your magazine cost 35 cents, I thought Saturday was the first day of the week because that's when TV Guide's week began. Just so you know, you're upsetting my world view....

New York Times Book Review: "My Favorite War" (3/21/04)

In her discussion of the Peloponnesian War ("My Favorite War," 3-21-04), Laura Miller writes that the Athenians, in losing to Sparta, "destroyed the democratic culture in which its citizens took such pride." Not so. While a murderous gang of oligarchs, the so-called Thirty Tyrants, was installed in Athens soon after the War ended, the Tyrants' reign of terror was brief: a band of militant democrats ousted the thugocracy the following summer. Democracy, once restored in Athens, thrived there for nearly a century longer.

TV Guide: "American Idol's Secrets Revealed" (3/13/04 - 3/19/04)

You report ("American Idol's Secrets Revealed"; March 13-19) that the music supervisor of American Idol was unable to get permission to use "Whitney Houston's 'I Will Always Love You'" on the show last season. Small wonder! While Houston sang the song in the 1992 movie The Bodyguard, "I Will Always Love You" was in fact written by Dolly Parton in the early 1970's. Parton herself recorded the song twice, in 1973 and 1982, and had a number one country hit with it on both occasions. If the American Idol folks are still looking to obtain rights, I suggest they forget about Whitney and get on the phone to Dollywood.

Newsweek: "Outlaw Vows" (2/25/04)

I understand that President Bush is in a difficult position politically when it comes to the question of same-sex marriages: religious conservatives are appalled by the homosexual unions recently celebrated in San Francisco and may turn against a president who does not condemn them ("Outlaw Vows," March 1, 2004). But President Bush was courageous enough to do the right thing, and to endanger his chances for reelection, when he determined--in the face of considerable opposition--to topple Saddam Hussein. He should likewise do the right thing and reject the idea of a constitutional amendment that would reserve marriage for heterosexuals. Indeed, a *great* president would explain to the American public that denying homosexual couples the right to contract marriages is as blatant and despicable a form of discrimination as was relegating Negroes to the back of the bus.

New York Times: Front page and World Briefing (1/8/04)

The Japanese are reportedly "scrupulous about turning in found articles" (front page, 1-8-04). Perhaps they return these lost items to make room for all the toilet paper they steal (World Briefing, 1-8-04).

Newsweek: "Unearthing Egypt's God of, Er, 'Fertility'," (11/24/03)

In describing the discovery of an ancient Egyptian temple to the fertility god Min ("Unearthing Egypt's God of, Er, 'Fertility'," Nov. 24), Jerry Adler writes, in apparent disbelief, that "even some educated modern Egyptians believe in the power of the god...." Strangely enough, there are likewise a number of educated folks in the modern West who derive solace from regularly eating chunks of their deity's flesh. But references in the media to *their* mythology are usually made without condescension.

TV Guide: "Parents' Guide to Kids' TV" (10/26/02-11/1/02)

In your "Parents' Guide to Kids' TV" (10/26-11/1), you describe Squidward of Nickelodeon's SpongeBob as a "clarinet-playing octopus." Mr. Tentacles is apt to explode when he reads this. The cantankerous musician and under-appreciated artiste of Bikini Bottom is, of course, a SQUID.

Newsweek: "My Turn" (6/11/01)

Kudos to Emily Lesk for her brave opposition to Virginia's absurd Minute of Silence law (My Turn, 6-11-2001). As Lesk notes, the imposition of a period of "silent activity" on students is a transparent attempt to introduce organized prayer into the public schools. It is also deeply offensive for another reason: the law implicitly privileges the rights of the religious over those of the non-religious, whose time is wasted and who are subjected to a wholly unnecessary bout of what amounts to public prayer. Surely even the most religious of our country's students can commune with their gods on their own time, without cheating their fellow students out of several hours' worth of education per year.

Newsweek: "The SAT Showdown" (3/5/01)

I fail to see how the sample SAT questions included in your article "The SAT Showdown" "hint at" why "performance on the SAT I varies widely by income level and race" (March 5, 2001). The questions provided are mildly difficult--one requires familiarity with the words "crass" and "pretentious," for example--but they show no apparent bias. Can Newsweek's implication be that these questions are beyond the capacity of racial minorities simply because they are difficult? Who's showing bias here?

New York Times: Week in Review (3/4/01)

The controversy over the appearance of the word "squaw" in place names (because it allegedly derives from a vulgarism for female genitalia [Week in Review, 3/4/01]) is ironic given the recent celebration by feminists of a far more offensive word. In recent months c---fests have been held around the country to celebrate the term c--- (a word so vulgar the New York Times will not print it) and to reclaim the term for use by women. References to genitals in our language are to be avoided, it would seem, only when a word's connection to the body part in question is not apparent.

New Haven Register: "Unplowed sidewalks net 178 warnings in North Haven" (1/29/01)

In "Unplowed sidewalks net 178 warnings in North Haven" (1-29-01) we are told about a North Haven man who slipped on his driveway while complaining to a police officer about the warning he had received. We are not told, however, why this man, my neighbor, was protesting to the police: he could not comply with the town's ordinance to shovel his sidewalk because his property has no sidewalk. That the police issued warnings to my neighbor and others in North Haven who do not have sidewalks on their properties underscores the capricious nature of the police department's recent, zealous enforcement of the sidewalk ordinance.

Newsweek: "Baby's Booty," (12/4/00)

Shaquille O'Neal, regarding his purchase of diamond earrings and a $6,000 dollhouse for one of his children, a 4-year-old, asks, "I buy myself big, expensive toys, why not them?" ("Baby's Booty," 12/4/2000). One of many possible answers to this question is that for the price of his daughter's dollhouse he could have provided 10,000 children in developing countries with enough vitamin A capsules to save them from a lifetime of blindness.*

[*Source for the cost of a sufficient supply of vitamin A to save one child:]

Newsweek: "George W. Wins the 'Phony War'" (11/20/00)

In "George W. Wins the 'Phony War'" (11-20-00), George W. Bush is quoted as spouting, while jesting on the campaign trail with Frank Bruni of the New York Times: "Ooobie-doobie, ga-doobie, oh where oh where is my underwear? You know that? It's Latin." But Newsweek has either misquoted the candidate, or Mr. Bush has himself erred wretchedly. As every graduate of high-school Latin classes knows, the faux-Latin phrase in question is "ubi sub ubi," "where under where" or, translated with considerable licence, "wear underwear." Bush might have made more of the underpants issue on the stump, for as we learn in the same issue ("Gore's Summer Surprise"), Al Gore, according to Tipper, sleeps in the nude.

Newsweek: "Lessons from Paducah," (5/10/99)

Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman found reason to rejoice that the murder of three girls in Paducah, Kentucky in 1997 had led some to find Jesus Christ. Seeing these newly religious in his audience stand to identify themselves, Chapman said, "There are three little girls just going nuts in heaven right now" ("Lessons from Paducah," May 10).

Wrong. There are three little girls lying dead, too young, in their graves. They are senseless of having had their futures ripped away from them, and senseless of their parents' grief, and senseless, certainly, of the effect their tragedy has had on the spiritual lives of those left behind. Suggesting that these dead are aloft in heaven, giddy with joy because Christ has claimed a few more souls, is sickening. Chapman would make the deaths in Paducah more palatable by fitting them, Procustes-like, into God's Great Plan. The effect is to belittle the tragedy. The murder of children cannot be made palatable.

New York Times: Letter (3/31/95)

In an effort to protect America's children from cybernetic pedophiles and pornographers, Senator James Exon has co-sponsored legislation designed, he writes, to "bring a reasonable measure of respectability and responsibility" to the internet (Letter, March 31). Well-intentioned though it is, Senator Exon's legislation unfortunately threatens the free speech rights of all who communicate in cyberspace. Insofar as it would criminalize not only obscenity but also any communications which might be deemed by some "indecent, lewd, lascivious, or filthy", the so-called Communications Decency Act would stifle legitimate electronic discourse. If Senator Exon's legislation is passed, woe be it to scholars interested in discussing online phallic allusions in Aristophanic comedy, or representations of intercrural intercourse on Athenian black-figure vases, or a myriad of other valid topics of scholarly investigation. A cyberspace cleansed of indecency by the Senator's over-broad proscription would no longer be a hospitable forum for scholarly debate.

USA Today: "Firms consider execs' ages; voters should, too," (7/10/92)

In a letter ("Firms consider execs' ages; voters should, too," 7/10/92), Joseph E. Irvine urges voters to consider George Bush's age (68) when deciding whether or not to elect him to a second term. Fair enough, but Mr. Irvine's reasoning is otherwise unsound. He notes that the average life span of the twelve 20th century presidents of the United States who have died (from McKinley to Johnson) was 67 years, a statistic which is irrelevant and misleading: Mr. Irvine ignores the fact that each of the four living former presidents is older than 67; he includes in his sample Presidents McKinley and Kennedy, shot dead at the ages of 58 and 46 respectively; finally, and most significantly, the ages at death of twelve presidents is not a large enough sample on which to base any educated hypothesis about President Bush's expected life span. It would be far more reasonable to cite the average life span of American males as determined by a sufficiently large sample of the population. Perhaps President Bush could squeak out a second term after all.