It is amusing to observe the way David Corn ["Fetal Attraction," July 19] has fabricated his own little dividing line between those who favor embryonic stem-cell research and those who don't. For those who favor the research, he uses the terms "scientific community" and "less theologically driven." For those who oppose the research, he uses the derisive terms: "by-the-book Catholics and other fundamentalists" [and] "die-hard anti-abortion advocates."
But Corn's artificial dividing line says more about his own biases than reality. Corn has very little understanding of who really are the voices in this debate. He seems to suggest that the non-theological "scientific community" is as a whole in favor of this research, whereas the naive fundamentalists are the ones against it. This is simply false. There are numerous members of the scientific community who oppose this research.
Amazingly, Corn also spews another false statement: "the majority of Americans, who are less theologically driven and who do not favor either a ban on abortion or a ban on embryonic stem-cell research. . . ." This is completely untrue. Again, if Corn did a little more homework, he would discover that the majority of Americans are in fact "theologically driven" and do in fact oppose most forms of abortion.
Steve Wiecking was too kind in his review of Polish Joke [July 19]. Having lived in urban Chicago for 30 years, we were looking forward to a piece that might mine all the layers, including humor, of Polish life in America. Instead we got sausages and toilet plungers. Pretty shallow. The stereotyped dialogue was reinforced by the costuming. Kielbasa tied to overalls? Come now.
John Aylward saved the show in several places. I kept thinking, if this one-dimensional, overly broad humor had been about African Americans or gays (for example), the work would never have been produced.
The premise of reconciling an immigrant past with one's own identity is promising. Mr. Ives had a good idea, but he needs to reassess the intelligence level of Seattle audiences before he dumbs down a script again.
I picked up your July 12 paper for what looked to be an interesting cover story ["Arbitrary Justice"] about the return of Sheriff's Deputy John Vanderwalker. I read the thousand word article in three minutes; I didn't even have to turn the page.
In answer to the Rick Anderson's rhetorical question "Whose fault is it that Deputy Sheriff John Vanderwalker is back at work?" I respond: I blame the premature editors at a local newspaper that can't resist the appeal of an emotionally charged front page when there's no story to back it up. Oh well, what did I expect from a free paper. I'm sure the alluring cover increased your circulation for the week, and that's all that really matters.
Have you people heard of a little thing the rest of us call "research"? In the critic pick of A Clockwork Orange [Film calendar, July 19], you idly state that it was "banned in Britain," which is an urban legend.
After a copycat crime in Britain, Kubrick had voluntarily removed it from circulation in his adopted homeland. That is why they began showing it mid-1999. That wasn't a coincidence.
A Clockwork Orange is a masterful piece of cinema and shouldn't require rumor mongering to sell it to an intelligent audience.
In his otherwise positive review of Barbara Ehrenreich's superb new book, Nickel and Dimed ("Slumming for Dollars," July 12), Mark D. Fefer accuses Ehrenreich of overlooking the fact that not everyone "aspires to the creative freedom and varied challenges" she enjoys, and thereby failing to "respect" these exploited strivers when she notes that the conversation of the most dutiful and serious maids revolves exclusively around the details of their housework. The kind of "respect" that Mr. Fefer enjoins serves insidiously to trivialize and excuse the debasement to the humanity of those suffering in the underclass, by suggesting that they too can "take pride in their seemingly [!?!] dismal jobs, "as if the underclass comprises individuals living like anyone else save for their straitened circumstances."
The strength of Ms. Ehrenreich's analysis is that she does not pander to this comforting lie, according to which poverty and ignorance are mere "lifestyles" exerting a nugatory effect on a person's basic humanity. She recognizes that socio-economic situation circumscribes human aspiration, and that a truly liberated consciousness is impossible under material oppression: A soul being used as a cog in a machine is ineluctably reduced to a cog.
The poor, whether in the U.S. or abroad, need a lot less self-serving respect for their "distinctive" culture and way of life, and a great deal more of the (rather costlier) liberty and equality so falsely held to be "inalienable."
King Co. Correctional Facility
Mr. Rafay is currently awaiting trial on three counts of first-degree murder. He has pled not guilty.—Eds.
Re your review of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed [July 12]: I wish the critics who have been praising this book to the rafters would show a little more skepticism about Ehrenreich's project. Yes, going undercover is exciting, and it sure makes a great gimmick, but as a method of reporting it's got some drawbacks.
Drawback #1 is that it tends to make the reporter herself the subject of the story, rather than whatever it is she is supposed to be reporting on. We learn a lot about Ehrenreich and what a miserable time she had pretending to be poor; meanwhile, the actual poor people she encounters remain little more than sketches, like the colorful locals who appear in a bad travelogue.
This brings us to drawback #2, the need to remain "in character." One of the reasons Ehrenreich learns so little about her coworkers is that she is paranoid about appearing overly curious. She writes: "How poor are they, my coworkers? The fact that anyone is working this job at all can be taken as prima facie evidence of some kind of desperation or at least a history of mistakes and disappointments, but it's not for me to ask."
Now, if it's "not for you to ask" the one question you claim you most want an answer to—how desperate are the poor in America, really?—I would say that is prima facie evidence that you've got the wrong reporting strategy. It seems to me Ehrenreich would have done better to forget the Nellie Bly routine and spend her three months conducting straightforward interviews.
Of course, a book of in-depth interviews with poor people probably wouldn't have made it onto The New York Times bestseller list. And maybe that's the real key here—what makes Nickel and Dimed so popular is not that it teaches you something about the poor, but that it allows to imagine what it would be like if, God forbid, you were poor. You have a little vicarious thrill, feel a moment of politically correct guilt, then close the cover and go right back to treating real waitresses, housecleaners, and department store sales clerks as if they were invisible.
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