Letters to the editor

Ishmael Reed responds to "Passing in Reverse"; Trashing the Kennedys; Woodstock then and now.

By Letters to the Editor
Published August 3, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Passing in Reverse


Recently, two white supremacists were charged with burning two synagogues to the ground and compiling a hit list, which included the names of prominent Sacramento Jewish-American leaders, yet Ms. Emily Wise Miller believes that the main threat to Jewish-Americans is a Chicana who had problems with her belonging to a study group? Not to be outdone, your columnist, Camille Paglia, announced on network television that anti-Semitism was spreading in the African-American community, without producing any evidence.(Some of her other observations about African-American and African culture have also been ignorant. She said, for example, that Africa has produced no art or literature, the kind of statement that is causing intellectuals in the rest of the world to regard the phrase "American Intellectual" as an oxymoron). Finally. Walter Goodman, The Times' neo-conservative critic, who regularly endorses offensive stereotypes of African-Americans which appear on television, conjures up two characters from Spike Lee to accuse the film maker of anti-Semitism. (This printed in a newspaper that used a lot of space, a few years ago, to debate whether the penguin in "Batman" was an anti-Semitic symbol). If Miller, Paglia and Goodman believe that a Chicana, a handful of penniless black demagogues or a black film maker present problems for American Jews, I recommend two books for them to read: "The Culture of Fear" by Barry Glassner and "The Fatal Embrace" by Benjamin Ginsburg.


--Ishmael Reed

0akland, Calif.

Emily Wise Miller remains in her ivory tower.

Even today, it has dawned on her that the smell of color has the same rancid odor of any racism.

-- Robert Cambria

Emily Wise Miller's piece does a good job of exposing one of the biggest myths about the University of California, Berkeley -- that the campus is some sort of diversity wonderland where people of all colors and creeds learn and live in perfect harmony. Far too often at Berkeley, the desire to connect with one's ethnic roots results in students spending their entire college career around only members of their same race -- in ethnic-themed clubs, graduation ceremonies and even dorms. It's easy for many to justify this behavior in the name of exploring one's ancestry, or, as with one of the women quoted by Miller, finding others on campus who "understand." But at some point the exploration ends and self-segregation begins.


I'm puzzled by the fact that Miller was not more offended -- even disgusted -- by the fact that others on the staff of the campus literary magazine wanted her ousted because she was not "of color," or more precisely, of their color. Ms. Miller, your white male friends were right; you were the victim of reverse racism. The fact that one woman you quoted wanted to keep all Jews off the magazine because she knew of one Jew who was a "terrible man" is all the evidence you need.

Berkeley is a great place to learn, and I feel lucky to have gone to school in a place where there's a diversity of opinion and people. But I look forward to the day when people begin to see through some of the rampant B.S. about Berkeley still floating around out there. For one thing, meaningful protests left Sproul Plaza decades ago. And for another, simply assembling a diverse student body does not always guarantee a perfect coexistence -- or, sadly, even a desire to coexist at all.

-- Mike Coleman



Poor Taste Pundits

One rises -- slowly, and the in the hope that everybody's attention is diverted elsewhere -- to defend the spirit of the commentary offered by Rush Limbaugh and John Podhoretz. Let us be honest. The entire claim that the Kennedys have on the American left can be distilled into a tepid support for the civil rights movement in the early '60s. That movement veterans look back fondly toward JFK says more about their Christianity than about his courage -- and the three months in which Bobby Kennedy ran for president. When Joe Conason and I were kicking around the Boston alternative press scene a decade or so ago, we both knew that American history -- and, especially, the history of the American left -- needed a break from the Kennedys.


The old man was one of the most unredeemable public men of the century, distressingly fond of both starlets and Adolf Hitler, and the notion of Joe Kennedy in hell is vastly more believable than most of what was being spouted by several generations of family retainers over the course of a tragic weekend. JFK was an inspirational figure -- one of the things he inspired was a heedless adventurism that ended up in millions of dead Asians. Bobby was a walking heartbreak -- the only real Irishman in the bunch -- but he did wind up wiretapping Martin Luther King Jr., in part because J. Edgar Hoover blackmailed him with the knowledge that Jack was pronging the mistress of a Mafia chieftain. Teddy's a great senator, but the woman did end up dead in a pond.

As for the next generation, even among those in politics on the family plan, there are a remarkable number of drunks, junkies, reckless idiots and lieutenant-governors of Maryland. All that talk about how Jacqueline Kennedy kept her children "out of the spotlight" was simply code that denied Mrs. Kennedy her greatest triumph. She kept her kids from becoming Kennedys. Which is why I mourn the passing of the youngest of them.

-- Charles Pierce

Newton, Mass.


Were Limbaugh and Podhoretz out of line with their right-wing diatribes about the Kennedys? I would agree. But even the most devout Kennedy supporters had to be horrified by the cable-news carnivores who seemed to have no soul nor reason for their continuing coverage or lack thereof.

The omnipresent cameras outside Caroline's house were nothing short of cheap, tabloid tactics by supposedly responsible news organizations. Do we really need a tight shot of William Kennedy Smith leaving her house? Is that news? Is keeping the zoom lens on the recovery boats adding any insight? What did they expect to see, the body? Yuck.

Americans should be ashamed of reveling in such trash, and in turn deserve the obscure meanderings of Limbaugh and Podhoretz, because that's the other side of the snake twisting its tail.


-- Joe Girard

Joe Conason's article would be more aptly titled, "Poor-Reporting Skills Pundit." In his article, he criticizes Rush Limbaugh by writing, "Nor could he [Limbaugh] resist denigrating the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for allegedly prompting her son to salute his father's caisson in that incessantly repeated film clip from November 1963." Mr. Conason goes on to write, "That last remark seems particularly emblematic of Limbaugh's mind-set."

If I recall correctly, the basic statement that the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had used JFK's funeral as a photo op was made by a former employee of Jacqueline's (whose name escapes me now, but I believe she was a press secretary for the former first lady). It would seem Mr. Limbaugh was repeating and commenting on her statement. If so, Mr. Conason is practicing deception by ignoring this crucial fact. I thought true journalism was an objective reporting of events, yet this omission appears emblematic of Mr. Conason's mind-set.

-- Dave Meek


As distasteful as it is to discover myself on the same ideological continent as the Corpulent Curmudgeon of Conservatism, I must admit that I, too, found the John-John Death Orgy a nauseating embarrassment. What exactly was it that this man, born into wealth and privilege, was supposed to have done to deserve the adoration of a society in life and the grieving of a nation in death? Was it his courageous struggles with the New York state bar exam? His editorship of a fashion magazine dressed up as a political journal? His insistence upon killing his wife and himself by trying to pretend he was a competent pilot?

The death of JFK Jr. was a sad event, but that is hardly reason for the U.S. Navy to bury him at sea (with all honors, and at taxpayer expense) and the Body Media to feast upon his cult of celebrity around the clock. If I were a veteran who had risked or given my life for this country, and had received as acknowledgement not much more than Uncle Sam's middle finger, I'd be asking for my money back right about now.

-- Peter Rott

San Francisco

As much as I dislike their naughty-frat-boy tone of discourse, this is a free country, and Rush Limbaugh and his hate-mongering talk show brethren have a constitutionally protected right to make whatever comments they like about a public figure.


I certainly hope Mr. Limbaugh and his right-wing ilk will remember my open-mindedness when I am pissing on Ronald Reagan's grave.

-- Dave Abston

San Francisco

What a riot


Hi -- Jeff Stark's article about Woodstock was among the best I've read -- as far as it went. But headlining it "What a Riot" and featuring a picture of the tumultuous last night of the festival was pretty bogus when Stark's only coverage of the incident was hearing a report on NPR after cutting out early. Really unfortunate that he did so -- I would have liked to read what he would have reported. And I would have felt less gypped after reading the article if the head and graphic had accurately reflected its content.


-- Pete Dunn

Cambridge, Mass.

I am a West Coast person. The first Woodstock was a debacle. And ours, out here at Altamont was even worse. The whole phenomenon was a case of "More is Better." We had the Fillmore, the Avalon and free Sunday concerts in the Panhandle Park. There are limits of scale and duration with everything. When these limits are exceeded, most anything can happen.

All of us that had the privilege to live through those days feel a wee bit sad. The future was here for a minute and then it went away. Today, I go to little blues clubs that dot Oakland, here and there. A couple of hours of inspired music is about all one really needs in a single dose. Small is beautiful, like the man said.

-- Peter Wm. Brown

Oakland, Calif.

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