Letters to the Editor

Defending one of California's "blood brothers"; Conason got it wrong; stop demonizing the Backstreet Boys.

Topics: Joe Conason, Guns, Gun Control

Blood brothers


Casting aspersions on Stephen Stayner, as did the lady in the coffee shop whom Sarah Beach refers to,
is clearly wrong. He emerged from his ordeal more a hero than a victim,
walking from Comptche to Ukiah (at least 10 miles, over a mountain range)
to save Parnell’s second victim.

But the questions about the Stayner family remain, and are really
unaddressed by Beach in her article. Steven was picked up by a stranger
in Merced and was told his family had given him away. I am not sure what is
known about Steven’s immediate reaction to that, but he does not seem
to have found it utterly unbelievable. He lived for seven years without, it
seems, ever telling anyone that he had an earlier family that gave him
away. Life with Parnell must have been hell on earth, but Steven does not
seem to have been nostalgic for life with his real parents. Beach, if I
understand her correctly, seemed to have had no inkling during the years
they were close friends in Comptche that Steven had a previous family.

People react to horrid circumstances in different ways. For Steven, the
circumstances seem to have molded his character for the good. But it is a
valid question whether those horrid circumstances started with or preceded
the kidnapping, and if they preceded, did they affect Cary Stayner as well — and not for the good? Still, it’s not a question to which the public has the right to an answer. Bothering Steven’s
widow or children would be, as Beach suggests, unconscionable.

– David Margolies

Oakland, Calif.

I was married to a woman who, as a child, had endured eight years of
sexual and psychological abuse from her father. Like Steven, this woman did a remarkably courageous thing — she saved her two nieces from the same fate by revealing her history to her sister-in-law when ‘granddad’ insisted on baby-sitting these children alone. Beach has done a great service by bearing witness to Steven’s courage.

– Rich Procter

It’s difficult for me to think about a man such as Ken Parnell living in
my neighborhood. It seems unjust that a
man can be convicted of such an unforgivable crime and then have the world accept him again as any normal citizen. He should continue to pay for the rest of his life for what he has done.

– Micheal Brown

Kalamazoo, Mich.

Shaheen draws a blank


I’m confused. Have Conason and Salon been lying to us or did Shaheen tank it? Doesn’t it have to be one or the other?

– Barry D Bayer

Homewood, Ill.

I appreciate Joe Conason for bringing the issue of Shaheen’s findings
directly to the public’s attention. But, come on, Joe, you’re normally more hard-hitting than this. Your point was made with me, but it was too subtly made to portray the irony to most readers. Or do you have something really slam-dang in the works that will crucify these Scaiffe-funded hypocrites on their own petard?

– Jo Ann Simon

Sharps & Flats: “Millennium”


In Jon Dolan’s outlandishly shrill essay, we learn that the
Backstreet Boys are “harvesting souls … by the millions,” practicing
“teensploitation” and “amassing an army of nymphet fannies.” I
thought the Boys were just a bunch of pop stars who’ve sold a lot of
records; it turns out they’re the most malignant corrupters of the
young since Baldur von Schirach organized the first Hitler Youth

Even if we forgive Dolan his condescending (and
sexist) depiction of the Backstreet Boys’ audience as “feverish,
unschooled consumers,” it is fair to ask just what any of this has to
do with music. Dolan gets all worked up about the Backstreet Boys’
album cover and their “proto-Guido machismo,” but fails to make a
single cogent comment about the group’s songs. The fact is, the Backstreet Boys sell millions because they sing catchy
pop songs; any critique of the group should start with a consideration
of those songs. The Backstreet Boys aren’t evil; teenage girls don’t
need Jon Dolan or any other writer to “school” them about what music to
listen to; and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” the Marvin
Gaye-Tammi Terrell classic which Dolan invokes, isn’t titled “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby.” It might seem odd to insist that an an article about a teenybopper boy band be reasonably nuanced, hold to basic standards
of accuracy and have something to say about the band’s music — but
until pop music critics bring a modicum of rigor to their work, pop
music criticism will remain, much more than any Backstreet Boys’ ditty,
kid stuff.

– Ned J. Soyor

New York

[Ed. note: The Marvin Gaye song title was a copy editor's error. It's been fixed. Thanks for pointing it out, Ned.]

Lights, camera, dissatisfaction


The creative life, mentioned by Miguel Santiago in Kenneth Rapoza’s article, is a privilege and a challenge and has very little in common with earning a good salary and being celebrated by the press. If you wake up in the morning and need to create, then you will do whatever it takes to ensure
that you do create. If you wake up in the morning and need to buy the
latest consumer item, then you will get a job. In a capitalist economy,
this is pretty much the way it works.

What Rapoza failed to mention in his piece is that world cinema courses
have been part of film school education for years. Every film school I know
of (and the two I attended in the early 1980s) require survey courses on
world cinema. I doubt that any of these courses have been offered as
“brain-napalming” for students who hope to direct the next “Something About Mary.” Film history or cinema studies courses serve the same purpose for film students as art history courses do for painters and sculptors: to expand the student’s awareness of what has come before and help define what
they might create. Did the film students I went to school with complain
about these courses? Absolutely. Most, like the students Rapoza quoted,
hoped to get rich or get laid from their success in the film industry, and
few had goals beyond getting their “reel” of film clips together in the
hopes that it would land them a studio job. This had more to do with the
lure of celebrity than with a promise by the university that a film degree was a “get into the film industry free” pass.

If Ithaca College professor Patricia Zimmermann is earnest about not giving
students the illusion that they will be the “next big thing” then I
suggest she talk the admissions office into more truthful advertising about
the college’s program. However, touting Ithaca’s cinema studies courses as
innovative borders on the ridiculous, as established film schools have been
offering these courses for years — and with better intentions. Choosing to
go to college and selecting a major is a simple business decision. Make
sure you know what your tuition investment is going to yield. Caveat emptor.

– Kevin D. Ramsey

New York

An impatient man


I find it ironic that David Bowman mentions John Wesley Harding near the
beginning of his article, because while it is clear that Garry Wills has
great knowledge and understanding of early Christian history, he has
virtually none about American history earlier than 1900. Considering his
reputation as an historian and writer, I was shocked at the offhand way in
which Wills fobbed off factoids about the “old West” to support his case for
gun control — but I was not all that surprised. People of otherwise normal
intelligence have been regurgitating hysterical nonsense ever since
Columbine, and Wills is no exception.

I hardly think that an ersatz museum named after a “singing cowboy” contains better history than the numerous books on the subject that have been written, especially in the last quarter-century. Does Wills really
believe what he says about how many people engaged in and/or were killed in gun battles in the latter half of the 19th century? After the Civil War,
hundreds of thousands of men trained in the art of killing and
battle-hardened to boot were set loose on American society and the frontier.
Those who turned to banditry or law enforcement as professions were usually highly skilled with the weapons of their day (by the way, the mounted troops
commanded by J.E.B. Stewart and Philip Sheridan most certainly could fire
their pistols and rifles from their horses, so I think it logical to assume that
this skill persisted once the war was over). The notion that such men merely
shot in the general direction of an adversary and purposely missed is, well,

Whatever one might think of the Earp brothers, there was indeed a gunfight
at the O.K. Corral, William “Wild Bill” Hickock did in fact out-draw many of his opponents and towns like Dodge City and Tombstone had higher per capita murder rates at their peak of lawlessness than modern Los Angeles, Detroit or New York. If Wills would like to make a persuasive argument against gun ownership, he should marshal more facts and fewer factoids or, better yet, stick to St. Augustine, either the grass or the saint.

– Rob Anderson

The article on Garry Wills was interesting, if only for his tired
interpretation of the Second Amendment. Does he think the militia back then was anything but common able-bodied men who brought their rifles with them
when called up? As for his claim that few people used guns back then, what
does he think people hunted with? Did the white man return to the bow and
arrow upon arriving in the New World?

It is striking the similarities of argument coming from foes of various
personal liberties; censors, drug prohibitionists, sexual puritans and
gun control partisans all justify imposing their beliefs on others with
the same refrain, your decisions about your own body threaten society. And
all stand against the tide of freedom that is flowing.

– Rolf Kirby

Triumph of the cure


I am a testicular cancer survivor myself, and I have to say that if
Armstrong is adorable for what he is doing now, he was just as stupid
before. This “ain’t nobody touching my balls” business is so common and so
silly it just gives me the willies. My doctor told me a story of a man seeking advice only when his testicle was as big as a soccer ball (sure enough, he died). I went to the doctor after I discovered some knots and swelling on one testicle (by the squirrel method, which I strongly recommend to any male beyond pubic-hair growing age). I didn’t need chemotherapy, as it was in an early state, although I underwent lymph node removal. Maybe
someone should spread word that all urologists are beautiful blond babes
raring to fumble your nuts. Maybe that’ll help usher men to the doctor
on first suspicious symptoms.

– T. Knute


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