Letters to the editor

Luau wars, Wendy Shalit and the dearth of cool guys.

By Letters to the Editor

Published November 8, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

The luau wars



I graduated from Dartmouth in 1993. I was a member of the fraternity system, and I was very embarrassed when I read of the "ghetto party."

Xenophobia, racism, etc., are American problems, indeed human problems. We can only hope that we learn to deal with each other in a better way in the future.

I found one problem with Mr. Ito's reporting, where he quoted Dartmouth Review editor Steven Menashi, who called the event a "silly" and "harmless" frat party. The Dartmouth Review should never be represented as the voice of Dartmouth, or for that matter, the voice of reason. It is not the school daily, and it is not an administration newsletter. The Review is a small independent group of students with a very conservative agenda. When I was at Dartmouth, they were very much in agreement with Pat Buchanan's world views, and I doubt much has changed.

-- Alexander Kaplan

I am a senior at Dartmouth College as well as a regular, enthusiastic reader of your publication. I am also a member of Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity. Suffice to say, I was shocked to see your recent article depicting myself and my fellow members of AXA as drunken, ignorant playboys.

Our annual luau party is a decades-old event, unmarred by controversy until the recent surge of scrutiny the fraternity/sorority system at our school has undergone. In comparing it to the detestable "ghetto party," put on by another fraternity, your reporter has done us a great disservice.

The suggestion that racist behavior and attitudes are in any way tolerated by members of Alpha Chi Alpha and the Dartmouth community at large on the basis of our luau party is absurd and ill-founded. The justification of such claims rests solely on the e-mail of one careless student -- -- a sister of Delta Delta Delta sorority who suggested that party-goers dress "Hawaiian Style" and that because Hawaii is a state, that an American flag made of Jell-O shots be an appropriate attraction.

Alpha Chi Alpha responded quickly and sympathetically to all Dartmouth students who were offended by the e-mail -- even though it was not issued by one of our members -- and immediately cancelled the party, breaking a summer tradition that our members have long enjoyed.

Dartmouth College believed us to have acted responsibly and appropriately in our handling of the affair.

Alpha Chi Alpha is an organization of young men of all sorts of ethnicities and backgrounds -- as many as are welcomed by the College of Dartmouth itself. Your inappropriate, biased and slipshod characterization of us as bigoted "frat guys" on the basis of this summer's luau party is insulting and unprofessional. As a fan of Salon, I have come to expect better.

-- Nathan W. Chaney

As someone who has been following the issue, I find it truly valuable to hear from those like Ito who can educate others about the violent colonization of Hawaiians, and the damage that results from upholding cultural stereotypes of Hawaiians. I have heard too many voices of those who, in ignorance, are simply upset about not being able to throw a party, or, worse yet, having their right to insult people of color taken away.

-- Dr. Brenda L. Kwon

We just wanted to let you know that not everyone in Hawaii agrees that Dartmouth student Aaron-Aina Akumu's version of Hawaii's history is accurate.

Contrary to his self-righteous complaints:

The U.S. stole no lands from the Hawaiian people. The lands Hawaii ceded to the U.S. in 1898 upon annexation (except for the portions used for the military, naval and civil purposes of the U.S. and set aside for local government) were held in trust by the U.S. with the income to be used "solely for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands for educational and other public purposes." Upon statehood in 1959 the U.S. returned those lands to Hawaii still subject to the public land trust which required them to be held for the benefit of all Hawaii's citizens, not just for those of Hawaiian ancestry.

Native Hawaiians gained U.S. citizenship (and more democratic power than they ever enjoyed under the monarchy) in 1900 immediately upon Hawaii becoming a Territory of the United States. They used their newfound right to vote to dominate the Hawaii Legislature until almost the beginning of World War II.

Today Hawaiians hold formidable political power and influence in Hawaii and in Washington. They are completely assimilated into every level of the political, economic and social life of Hawaii. The adaptive policies followed by the native Hawaiian monarchs and Alii in the 19th century (welcoming and taking advantage of the Western people, language, religion, education, technology and institutions) have served them well. They are today vastly better off economically than the Polynesian inhabitants of any other nation in the Pacific.

In 1959, 94 percent of Hawaii's voters, including by necessity a large majority of voters of Hawaiian ancestry, voted yes to statehood.

Please ask Mr. Akumu to lighten up. He makes no friends for Hawaii or for himself by telling people "they have no right to be ignorant about what a real luau is." Also, it would not hurt him to brush up on his Hawaiian history. A good place to start is our Aloha for All Web site, or this good new Web site.

-- H. William and Sandra Puanani Burgess

I find Robert Ito's statement that "news of the ["ghetto"-themed] party sent Dartmouth undergrads scurrying for Afro wigs, toy handguns and crimping irons" both offensive and untrue. I graduated from Dartmouth in June 1999, was present during the uproar that followed announcement of this party and was involved in many discussions centering around the "luau" party.

Theming any party or function that is not a cultural celebration involving that cultural group "Hawaiian" or "Cuban" or anything similar is disgusting and an example of excessive ignorance. However, those five close-knit students heroicized by Ito are more typical of Dartmouth undergraduate life than their "ghetto"-partying brethren. Apathy is, unfortunately, still rampant, but to characterize Dartmouth as populated primarily by bigots is beyond unfair.

-- Victoria Thatcher

The dearth of cool



Interesting article by Frank Houston on the lack of cool white guys in the entertainment industry today. Actually, I found his conclusions shocking! Are the people over at Entertainment Tonight and E! aware of this scarcity of the truly ice-cold white guy? Heck, I thought all those guys on "Friends" really had it going on. And what about that George Clooney fella!?

Seriously, Houston neglected to mention all of those neo-swing bands in his group of pretenders.

Most importantly, I was a little disappointed about what else he left out of his article.

Houston writes: "Times like these serve to remind us that cool is a white man's idea of something purely black, like early rock music. Miles Davis oozed cool. James Brown has it in his bones. Unsurprisingly, then, plenty of hip-hop stars, male and female, exude cool."

Like who? Names, Houston. Names. I wanted to see the names of some contemporary black stars who are continuing the tradition of cool. There are plenty to choose from, as you noted.

Unfortunately, Houston didn't identify any. Nor did he venture outside black music to point out there are chill "brothas" in other areas of the entertainment industry as well, notably film and television. He certainly did it when talking about the cool white guys of yesteryear.

If I didn't know any better, I'd say he was suggesting that any ol' brother will do when it comes to cool. But I know that's not what he had in mind.

We black guys do appreciate the fact white guys think we're all so down, i.e. cool, hip. Still, it sure would have been nice if Houston could have given a few brothas a little props by name. Ya know?

-- Bob Campbell

Rochester Hills, Mich.

Warm for Wendy



Levine's reference to "boring and cold" Wendy Shalit reveals one truth about attraction that Levine himself may not recognize: We are most attracted to people who are attracted to us. Had Wendy's eyes met his with a spark of mutual interest, Levine's article may well have described a "fascinating and firey" Wendy Shalit.

-- Robin Shain

Chinese take-out



Rather strange that your magazine has become an apologist for Jeff Gerth's wildly partisan and inaccurate journalism. Anyone familiar with Gerth's "reporting" (lying would be a better word) regarding the Whitewater "scandal" can clearly see the same sort of "accusing-without-coming-right-out-and-saying-it" style in Gerth's writing on the China matter. Of course, scanning the Clinton Crazies' Internet posts since the Gerth stories appeared demonstrates that Gerth accomplished what he set out to do: Imply, without saying it, that Clinton sold his country out. Sean Elder seems to believe that this is no big deal. Nowhere does he acknowledge Gerth's typical practice of ignoring facts that go against his bias, something Gerth raised to an art form in his Whitewater coverage.

It will be interesting to see what response the Times comes up with. I suppose we should be thankful that they plan to respond at all. When they were invited to a public forum to justify Gerth's reporting, in light of Gene Lyons' scathing article "Fool for Scandal: How the New York Times Invented Whitewater," they didn't even bother to show up. Perhaps they now fear that Gerth's lack of credibility has finally been exposed.

-- Jeff Ryan

Breckenridge, Colo.

In the recent DOE hysteria, Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee failed a polygraph test. Salon reporter Sean Elder erroneously thinks that this means that Lee lied.

In fact, FBI polygraph expert Drew Richardson asserts that "there is almost universal agreement that polygraph screening is completely invalid." Richardson taught his 10-year-old son to beat the test. The polygraph test really measures general anxiety, nothing more. That is why polygraphs are not admissible in court: They are simply not valid.

The New York Times' initial handling of the Los Alamos story fueled a real spy hysteria. Whatever the Times' motivation, it was very bad journalism.

-- John W. Farley

Las Vegas

After his disgraceful performance on Whitewater, I'd seriously question anything controversial that Jeff Gerth wrote. The man is both biased and incompetent and the Times deserves a black eye for letting him run loose on an important story.

-- John Henry Auran

Roxbury, N.Y.

The truth about Texas school reform



This story is missing an important element in the improvement of Texas public schools, namely the recent requirement that wealthy school districts share their property tax revenue with poorer school districts. Without this money, many districts may not have been able to improve as much as they did. I am very disappointed that such an obvious factor was left out of this article. It makes me wonder what else is missing.

-- Ann Nunnally

Plano, Texas

Let me tell you my experiences with my grandson, a product of a private Christian school in Texas. This is a school that will become eligible for vouchers for kids under Mr. Bush's program. The school has recently been written up nationwide and in the Dallas Morning News as having a "hell week" where Columbine is reenacted with students handling guns, blanks, leather trench coats, etc., simulating killing of students and teachers. My grandson is a student there.

He cannot tell me when the Civil War was, or who was president but he can recite John 3:16. He is completely unfamiliar with Congress, the Supreme Court or the White House but he can recite the books in the Bible. He recently told me he had to study 19 items for a test the next day. I asked him what questions and they were about the Bible. He cannot add, subtract, multiply or divide without a computer but he can carry a Bible to class as required. He is a product of white flight and the abundance of Christian schools in the suburbs of Dallas that "educate" under the Christian banner. Gov. Bush is an advocate of granting vouchers for these students to attend these schools. This is the program the nation will be able to look forward to when he is elected.

-- Tom Russell


In the last legislative session, George Bush cut $250 million from kindergarten funding in order to give a property-tax break that would look good to New Hampshire voters. Of course, that tax break meant a decrease of $0 to property owners in Austin, Texas, while cutting funding for kindergartens there, but hey, Bush is the "education governor!"

The teachers I know here in Texas all say they teach to the TAAS test, that it's been that way since the test was implemented, and it hasn't gotten any better. And when that's all you teach to, you aren't teaching much, but you're making sure a whole lot of people know it.

As for focussing on El Paso, and one school in that school district (and a program I understand is funded by the federal government, and has nothing to do with Texas funding or programs either one), it is one school out of thousands in Texas. We have a lot of school districts here. Picking one as an example is, to say the least, to skew the data. "A patch of ice doth not a winter make."

-- Robert M. Jeffers

Joan Walsh makes a strong argument that Texas has made incredible gains in education reform over the last 15 years. As a product of that reform (I graduated from a Texas high school in 1990) I can personally say Texas has one of the best education systems in the country. I can say this especially now since I live in New York City, which has, I believe, one of the worst educational systems.

However, to argue that much of the reform has to do with Gov. Bush is ludicrous. Texas education reform began with Mark White in the early 1980s, when the state passed a "no pass, no play" law. There is no doubt that Bush has continued the tradition begun so many years ago and kept education reform at the top of his agenda. But he is only the latest in a string of governors who have made education a priority. Bush has done just as much for Texas schools as Ann Richards did before him, as Bill Clements did before her. He has taken reform to the next level.

I must also point out that Texas history is rife with corrupt governors (Ma and Pa Ferguson, to name two in this century). The Texas Legislature has over the years stripped the governor of much of his power, and today the governor of Texas can do little but suggest policy. The Legislature and the voters of the state are the real policy makers.

-- Jeff Smith

Jackson Heights, N.Y.

Docs who lie and the patients who thank them



A thoughtful article. While lying might ameliorate the immediate problem of care for a single individual, it creates a very unjust system in which some (those with doctors willing to lie) receive care while others do not (doctors who insist on scrupulous honesty! For shame!). I can't help but believe that the willingness to lie for a patient might be affected by the economic class as well.

If we begin to applaud the heroic lying of doctors for patients, the ethical lines get very blurry, destroying trust between employer/doctor and doctor/patient. Better to tell the truth, face the consequences of a corrupted system of medical delivery, and make real changes.

-- Daniel J. Hoisington

For every target, a bomber



Douglas McGray's piece on chemical-biological terrorism was interesting, but it fits right in the mold of what the media has been printing of late. First, he makes elementary errors (anthrax is not a virus, it's a bacillus -- not even close); then, he assumes that hazmat incidents are most likely to be due to hostile action. The good people of Bhopal, India, and Seveso, Italy, were not targets of hostile action, but poison gas from industrial sources killed and injured them just the same. The hog farmers who tainted the wells of North Carolina are not terrorists, but they traffic in biological contaminants anyway. The refineries surrounding Richmond, Calif., that regularly scare the community by releasing possibly toxic gases do not represent "religious or extremist subcultures"; they represent corporations.

Terrorists make great press, and they are a potential threat, but the malathion being sprayed on Manhattan right now is a much greater threat.

-- Michael Treece

Editor's note: The error regarding anthrax has been corrected.

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After Ruby Ridge, Waco and Oklahoma City (among others) WE THE PEOPLE are convinced that the No. 1 terrorists in this nation as well as the most serious threat to our safety and security are the very same government agencies that constantly expound on the dangers of terrorism. The agencies such as FBI, BATF and U.S. marshals have such a murderous track record toward law-abiding Americans that we know that these people are far more dangerous than any foreign threat. These people are scum and need to always be suspect.

-- Wayne Wright

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