Letters to the editor

Do hetero killers benefit from double standard? The trouble with "Trek"; Huffington on Clinton.

By Letters to the Editor
Published November 5, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

A Double Standard?



The Washington Times complains that the death of Jesse Dirkhising shows a media double standard. Indeed it does. Whenever the subject comes up, the media invariably identify the alleged killers as homosexuals. Yet when a man rapes and murders a girl, is the killer ever identified as a heterosexual?

-- David J. Edmondson


Sean Elder attempts to enlighten us all with his insights into rhetoric in his piece "A Double Standard?" Well, Mr. Elder, you are correct. False parallels are indeed "classic rhetorical devices," as is attempting to show guilt by association. Would you really have us believe that because the Washington Times has a single opinion that happens to coincide with as loathsome an individual as David Duke that the Times staff is prepared to don hoods and masks and march against homosexuality and all of its perceived evils? Or is it simply that you, as the Times was suggesting, are engaging in the indefensible "My murder is better (or worse) than your murder" debate?

The brutal beating death of a gay man in Wyoming and the sexual torture and murder of a child in Arkansas have one very big, very true parallel: a dead body, which your biased score counting forgets to mention.

Your snide, agenda-laden sophistry completely misses the issue. The outrage in the Shepard case should not result from his sexual orientation. Neither should the outrage in the Dirkhising case come from his juvenile status or his murderer's sexual orientation. The outrage should come from the fact that two human beings were savagely murdered by others who lacked both compassion and the ability to empathize with their victims.

-- Teddy Carroll

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Matthew Shepherd was robbed and murdered for being gay. He was singled out for that reason alone. Simply put, there is a huge difference between murdering someone because you don't like their race, their religion, their sexual orientation and killing just 'cause you're crazy.

As a gay man, I don't want the media to treat gays with kid gloves. But I do hope that those who try the parallel thing based on their personal beliefs or politics realize that the majority of Americans (I pray!) are not being duped by them. Their biases are showing. And their ignorance.

-- Paul Evans

Lexington, Ky.

Turning Parisienne



It really isn't that hard to understand why French women are different. They don't hate men for being men. They don't think that being female is something shameful to suppress, like ancient foot-binding. They understand the difference between being sensual and being sexy, the latter of which in this country means having tits the size of watermelons and a brain about as substantive. They don't fear aging. They love sex, they don't use it like a weapon to manipulate love from pussified men. They don't view food as the enemy. And they don't view every compliment as sexual harassment.

No wonder French women are seductive. They aren't afraid of the true power of being female.

-- Pamela Tucker

Dearborn, Mich.

Talking 'bout a computer revolution



Many of the so-called future capabilities of speech recognition cited in Janelle Brown's article are actually available now. Such things as using voice to turn on and off lights and other appliances in a house, or to surf the Internet and download an article, are commonplace to many people. Perhaps that is because speech recognition technology has been in development since the 1950s, not the 1970s.

Ms. Brown's idea that speech recognition software can "stunt the creative writing process" may be true for her, but it is certainly not true for me or for many, many other users. In fact, I find that my communication is much more clear when I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking than when I hunch over the keyboard and type a document. I find speech recognition stimulating and interesting, and it seems as if the documents I create using it are better documents because they are somewhat more conversational.

Finally, there is the matter of chatter in the workplace. Ms. Brown seems to think everyone will need to wear earplugs, if everyone is using speech recognition in the office. As a matter of fact, everyone is chattering now in the office, using another instrument of technology called the telephone. Speech recognition need be no different. I doubt that we will get rid of telephones for this reason!

-- Van Thompson

As the author of a manual for a voice recognition program developed for BellSouth Cellular Corp.'s Research and Development Lab, I felt that the author failed to provide some important distinctions between types of voice recognition programs.

The systems that have limited commands, such as systems that navigate voice mail menus, are created by collecting samples from a large number of speakers and then developing templates for each word that can accommodate wide variations in articulation of the words. These systems can be speaker-independent because they use huge samples as the base of the system. Limited vocabulary systems can recognize voices with a high degree of accuracy, but collecting all the samples and creating templates is too time consuming for the development of large vocabularies. In addition, a system based on collected samples does not handle the natural joining of words that occurs in continuous speech.

Unlike Dragon Naturally Speaking and ViaVoice, limited-vocabulary systems already function accurately enough for most people to use them without too much frustration, as long as the user knows how to give the commands to the system (the commands must be given slowly and in the right order). I suspect that the AutoPC program discussed at the end of the article is a limited-vocabulary system.

The Dragon Naturally Speaking and ViaVoice programs which are the focus of the article, however, are large-vocabulary systems. Large-vocabulary systems are built by collecting phoneme patterns and stringing those together. Phonemes are the sounds that make up the English language: ah, ae, etc. There are only about 70 phonemes, so it's easy to see why a large-vocabulary system must be built out of these building blocks instead of templates of individual words. All of these phoneme-based systems require training to a particular user. Developing large vocabulary systems involves a level of complexity that developing a limited vocabulary system does not. Because of the additional complexities involved in recognizing natural speech, large-vocabulary systems are not yet capable of recognizing speech with the same accuracy as the limited-vocabulary systems.

-- Suzanne LaForest

The trouble with "Trek"



While I agree with a great deal of what Mr. Wilonsky said in his criticism of the "Star Trek" franchise, I think he was unfair to blame Kate Mulgrew for Capt. Janeway's lack of charisma and appeal. Mulgrew is a vibrant, colorful actress who has been steadily given less and less to do on "Voyager" as the writers have turned the first female captain into an insecure, resentful old maid with a big-breasted Borg savior as the real focus of her series. Blast "Voyager" all you want, but don't hold Kate solely responsible if she looks bored and frustrated; I would, too, in her position.

-- Michelle Erica Green

Purists will probably ream me for this kind of blasphemy, but while "Star Trek" fans have benefited immeasurably from the product of Gene Roddenberry's vision, the series themselves suffered from it also. While the Great Bird was running the show, characters -- even leads -- were flat, their relationships were artificial and contrived, juvenile prurience and sexism were rampant and sometimes downright creepy, good story arcs were often shot out of mid-air with too-tidy deus ex machina endings, stupid ideas and stupid characters were clung to almost as fiercely as on "Saturday Night Live" and production values were often hamstrung by a haute fromage aesthetic. (You can see the conflict between this and the glossier effects of later days in "Star Trek: Generations," when the visual dazzle of the rest of the movie is undermined by a scene on a "metal" catwalk that bends and twists like cheap plastic -- because it is cheap plastic.)

When Roddenberry died and Berman took over, characters sprang to life, story lines developed suspense, female characters became active players and not just eye candy (Seven of Nine notwithstanding), and the shows generally began to display a more adult outlook on life. Robert Wilonsky pooh-poohs "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," but that series really was far and away the best in the "franchise," being endowed with more brains, more heart and more nerve than any of the other three.

-- Keith Ammann

Albany, N.Y.

I agree that the series has evolved far past its original heart. In fact, the original series was quite different from what Roddenberry would have ideally liked. He didn't like a lot of the action and gritty humanity of the Kirk years. He wanted to show that the future was going to be a loving place where everyone always got along -- in short, the first few seasons of TNG.

But that's where having too many cooks can actually improve the broth. He wasn't able to do what he wanted, so he had to settle for doing his fantastic idea in a less ideal -- but far more interesting -- manner.

-- Kevin Wright

The debate regarding whether "classic" "Trek" is better than "new" "Trek" is a famous one, and it's obvious into which camp Mr. Wilonsky falls; his appraisal of the franchise seems entirely limited to reviewing how likely "classic" cast appearances are and how much the new writers appreciate the original. To many viewers, however, "classic" "Trek" is a strident and slightly cheesy reminder of our past, a naive and unworkable western in space -- which was, after all, its intent; "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine," in contrast, offered a more sophisticated view of a more sophisticated universe, and attracted an audience far more intellectual and critical of illogic.

Classic "Trek" was a snapshot of its era, and any attempts to revive it would be foolish. As pointed out, the original cast had a chemistry that can't be recaptured, and it was that chemistry alone that made the show -- which was, in all other ways, fairly awful -- watchable. It should be noted that "Voyager" attempts to recapture the spirit of classic "Trek," "boldly going" into the unknown (albeit with a silly framing story); it fails on many levels, not least because it completely fails to generate the same magnetism within its cast -- and also because it dispenses with the cerebral pleasure that "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine" offered their audiences.

"Star Trek" may be dead, but not for the reason Mr. Wilonsky offered. Rather, the current writers are attempting to return to the spirit of the original series by throwing in unjustifiable mysticism, silliness, blatant sexism and gung-ho action -- without providing for the witty characterization of the original. By doing so, they alienate both those original fans (who, it might be noted, will probably be alienated by any show with Captain Kirk in the big chair) and the newer fans who were drawn to the modern "Trek's" intelligent writing, comparatively sensible science, sociological analysis, and diplomatic maneuvers.

-- Tom Davidson

The Salon Interview: Roddy Doyle



I had to laugh when I read Charles Taylor's interview with Roddy Doyle in Salon last week. On reading the first paragraph of the interview, I was confronted with comparisons from Taylor between the work of Doyle and that of Dickens, which upon reading the actual interview, I found had been planted in Taylor's head by Doyle himself. It is incredible that Taylor accepted such a comparison without question, and it is a joke to suggest that Doyle's writing possesses anything like the same depth and subtlety that is contained in the work of Charles Dickens. Doyle's latest novel has been savaged by most critics this side of the Atlantic who know anything about Irish history, and Taylor's interview was one-sided in not taking this into account.

Doyle also contended that his television series "Family" had been denounced from the pulpits of Ireland, thus giving Salon's American readership the impression of a country that was still backward and priest-ridden -- again, this perpetuation of stereotypes (which is already so prevalent in Doyle's writing) went unquestioned by Taylor. The reality is that the church in Ireland in the 1990s has been too busy dealing with its own problems to care that much about what Doyle portrays in his work. There may have been one or two priests who bothered to denounce the series at Mass (though I don't remember hearing about them), but the majority of priests really wouldn't make the effort.

The idea that Doyle's work will stand the test of time in the same way as that of Charles Dickens seems ludicrous to me. But I do admire his marketing skills and acumen, especially his depiction of a mythical Ireland that so many American readers would like to believe still exists, in order to portray himself (implausibly) as some sort of persecuted James Joyce figure. I'm surprised that such an intelligent magazine as Salon would unquestioningly perpetuate this fallacy.

-- Sandra O'Cleary

Sligo, Ireland

Clinton goes Twilight Zone



Ms. Huffington has missed the point. Clinton's health-care plan did not fail. It is the health-care system of America that has failed. Since the health-care industry has the Republican Party in its pocket, the president has (very sensibly) resolved that his V.P. Gore will inherit not only the presidency but also a Democratic majority in the House. Then maybe something can be done about the uninsured children and working poor.

-- McCamy Taylor

Ms. Huffington's piece on child health care omits so many key details one wonders just where she got her facts. She glosses over the 1993 health-care proposal made by Clinton as if it were never there. Let's review, shall we? Clinton proposed that all Americans have a health-care plan. Let me repeat: all Americans. Through poor handling by the administration, giving all the special interests time to gather forces, this proposal was run out by GOP types supported by big business (read, pharmaceuticals, HMO's, etc.) who stood to lose major bucks if required to serve the people and not just those with the cash. A "clueless fireman," please. If anything, the Clintons were way ahead of the curve here. The gap in health care is a clear result of the ever-growing and well-documented gap between the working poor and the remainder of society, not Clinton's advocacy of health care for AARP members.

In addition, there was and is a tremendous effort in Congress to hold up any legislation that might show Clinton in a positive light. Don't get me wrong. I do not think Clinton is our boy in shining armor. As with most political commentators, Ms. Huffington has omitted some facts to support her premise. But in this case, so many facts have been omitted, the work becomes fiction.

-- Rich McIntosh

Fremont, Calif.

This article merely reveals anew the preposterous gall of the Republicans. The very people who are Ms. Huffington's natural, wealthy constituency orchestrated the death of the Clintons' major attempt at health-care reform and now accuse the president of not caring for the 11 million uninsured children in this country. If they really care that much, let's get on with a single-payer system! And sure, go ahead and include aromatherapy, acupuncture, Ornish or whoever else can help deliver the goods.

-- Steven Chostler

Denver, Colo.

Letters to the Editor

MORE FROM Letters to the Editor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------