Letters to the Editor

Older student proves you're never too old to be a wannabe! Plus: Lynda Barry doesn't need Cintra's sympathy; vegetarians squawk at Thanksgiving dinner tale.

Published December 2, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Ancient history

Why did Sophia Dembling start college at the age of 41 if all she was
interested in was fitting in? School is for learning. It's not the old ones who ask
questions in class, but the smart, curious ones. It's never been "cool" to be interested in what the teacher has to say, no
matter what your age.

So would you rather appear smart to your teacher, or old to your
classmates? At 20, a 40-year-old looks old regardless of how she's

-- Kevin Flanagan

I can't imagine why Dembling had so much trouble fitting in at her
local community college. She was thinking about exactly the right things:
clothes and what everyone thinks of her.

I am a 20-year-old college student and the words "Tommy," "Hilfiger," "Old Navy"
and "Guess" have never appeared anywhere on my body. I have asked "what if?"
and "how?" and "why?" in class. College is for learning. The
shallowness displayed by Dembling had no other effect than to damage
her own education and prove she was exactly like all of the other students
sitting in class.

-- Leah Macinskas

As another student who has returned to college and is also older than most
of her fellow art students (I'm 31), Dembling's piece pissed
me off. For one, her gross generalizations of her fellow students -- as only
asking questions in class to find out whether something would be on the
test -- are offensive. For another, what does she care what the other
students think of her if she asks lots of questions? She's not going to
hang out with them. I see her decision to stop asking questions in class
as particularly idiotic, as she could be making herself a positive example
of a motivated, intellectually curious learner for all of those other
students whom she looks down upon.

Instead, she decides to pull herself
back to their level and regrets that she's invisible now. I prefer to excel in my studio classes and help inspire my fellow students to excel as well, showing them what they're capable of
achieving if they put in the effort. And I feel free to pester the teacher with as many questions as I need answered; I'm paying for the instruction, after all.

-- Kristin Abkemeier

The evil two books and one video do

I think Cintra Wilson has misunderstood Lynda Barry's new novel "Cruddy." She complains that the
death of the main character, Roberta, is supposed to be the book's big happy
ending and that we are meant to root for her to commit suicide. But Barry's
(extraordinary and wonderful) work seems to me very rarely to be about big
happy endings, but rather about perfectly capturing emotional moments in
time -- some of which are funny, some of which are excruciatingly sad or
painful, and some of which are both.

I don't think we are meant to agree with Roberta that suicide is a
desirable curtain over her sad and terrifying life, but rather to feel,
with Barry, the absolute tragedy of Roberta's eventual longing for her
own death. Roberta sees suicide as redemption and release because she is
still only 15, and I think Barry wants us to understand this as
15-year-old Roberta's thinking, not as Barry's own. I think that
part of the reason Barry is able to create such wonderful art is because
she herself is deeply happy and stable. You can only (without danger) dive
this deeply into darkness when you know there is a safe haven to which you
can return.

So I hope that Cintra will save her Paxil and chocolate to send to people truly in need of it. I think Lynda Barry is doing fine.

-- Jen Wells

Relax, Cintra. I finally got around to watching "The Blair Witch
Project" myself, last weekend, with my squeamish family, on a 14-inch screen.
Then I watched it twice more by myself. I don't understand the "scariest
thing ever seen" reaction to the flick. None of us found it scary -- even
my nightmare-prone 9-year-old, whose only observation was "There's a
lot of swearing in this movie."

I thought it was very good, though, as an educational
film on "How to Get Terminally Lost in the Woods and Die of Exposure."
The exploration of wilderness group dynamics was fascinating and realistic.
Poor Heather and company.

-- Bill Cameron

Gingrich vs. Gingrich


Interesting that no one is mentioning the fact that Gingrich has been down
this path before -- with his first wife, whom he left for Marianne. If I
recall correctly, he left her while she was in the hospital having surgery
for cancer. He felt that was the best time to announce to her that their
marriage was finished and that he was taking up with Marianne, who had
been working for him in his office.

Marianne is right to raise the questions of "family values" and his
behavior, as she has been part and parcel of such a case before.

They all deserve each other.

-- Michelle Stein-Evers Frankl

Although I don't fit the Christian, right-wing stereotype, I
am a believer and am still married and faithful -- through thick and thin, thanks to God and my husband's commitment -- after 17 years. I find Newt Gingrich's choices not shocking in our culture, yet sad. Given what he publicly stood for, he furthers the hypocritical stereotype of conservatives.

-- Tamra Farah

"My Kitchen Wars" by Betty Fussell



Pete Wells missed Betty Fussell's true thesis in his review of her
memoir. True, she is bitter about her marriage, but her real bitterness is
reserved for the mid-20th century cultural pressure on women to sublimate
intellectual and creative ambition into homemaking and other traditional
wifely duties.

Fussell's husband, she relates, rarely fails to remind her
of that fact. At one point, she finally gets a
teaching job after years of rejection (due to her gender and university
nepotism laws); her husband turns down the job offer for her when she's
out of the house, as he assumes she will accompany him on sabbatical. He
doesn't tell her about the call for days. I find her tone appropriate and
all too rare from women of her generation.

-- Deborah Phelps

Killing a lamb called Dinner


The question of eating meat is a moral one, not a sentimental one. The
only question the Kimberly French addressed was whether she could
personally stomach watching her own "pet" be killed. Congratulations --
she was callous enough to do it. She skipped over much of what makes meat
a cruel torture -- including the stomach-wrenching abuse that most animals
are subjected to in factory farms -- in order to justify her own
appetites. She also presented meat-eating as a given for all human beings.
It isn't.

Meat-eating carries an enormous number of negative consequences, including
being the biggest factor in an enormous number of diseases. Risk of heart
disease can be reduced 90 percent by eliminating meat, egg and dairy consumption.
Those who abstain from animal products vastly reduce their risk for many
types of cancer, osteoporosis and other chronic diseases. Meat
production is also destroying our environment, with factory farms
polluting our water and air. The hog farms in North Carolina, with their
enormous excrement "lagoons," are an excellent example; these farms have
polluted ground water and created numerous environmental problems that
will have many negative consequences on human health.

The only benefit of meat-eating is appeasing the taste buds of those who enjoy
eating flesh. The truth is that we are reaping the consequences of
shedding innocent blood, destroying our own health and
environment. Any human being who has loved a pet dog or cat and cried
over its death cannot fail to see the hypocrisy of then eating a cow or
chicken for dinner. We have convinced ourselves that animals have no
feelings, when our everyday interactions with them tell us otherwise. How
can we continue to kill and eat the creatures that trust us and show
terror as they die?

-- Debra L. Couch

I'm glad that Kimberly French is willing to witness the violence done to
animals so that she may eat meat. Most people in America are not willing
to face the reality of their culinary choices. And it's certainly her
prerogative to say that, having observed the butcher's knife, she feels
fine wielding it.

I do, however, object to her dismissing concerns about animal suffering as
mere "sentimentality." Animals do suffer in the wild. Animals kill other
animals. It's the way of the world. But humans are not just another species of animal. We have the ability to choose peace and compassion. Every time one of us chooses to eat meat, we
cause more suffering rather than less. Is it mere "sentimentality" to think that we should make humane choices that would save both animals and people?

-- Clint Talbott

Smog alert


Neither Gov. Bush nor any other Texan can do much
about the polluted air in my city, El Paso. Filthy air drifts across the
narrow Rio Grande from Juarez, an enormous city in a country with
different standards for air quality. Juarez's dirt streets, wood-burning
fires and leaded gasoline all contribute to the brown crud that hangs
over us. Although El Paso/Juarez is the largest border metropolitan area,
I suspect the same problem exists to some degree in all border cities from
California to eastern Texas.

I don't know the solution, but it would
probably require a joint effort on the part of the U.S. and Mexican governments. A step in the right direction would be the construction of more bridges, and the assignment of many more Customs agents. It might cut down on the incredibly long lines of cars waiting (for an hour
or more) to clear Customs, while their idling engines pollute the air still more.

-- Patricia Rhodes

A significant factor in smog generation is the outside air
temperature. Texas cities experience their worst pollution days during
the hot summer. The past two summers have been significantly hotter than
average, a trend which should subside with the El Niqo/La Niqa cycle
ending. Since the fall began, smog readings have dropped from the 90-100
range to the 20-30 range. Why the drop? Summer's over.

Also, concerning grandfathered emissions
from factories, Gov. Bush is the first Texas governor to address the
problem. Past Democratic administrations, including media darling Ann
Richards, failed to even address the issue.

In fact, the air is getting better if the long-term view is considered. During the 1970s and 1980s, the number of days where the air pollution exceeded 125
parts per billion often topped 20 days per year. In the
1990s, this has dropped to 10 or lower, most years. The progress
has not been rapid enough to please the arbitrary goals set in the Clean
Air Act of 1990. I think only 10 bad air days a year is a reasonable
price for an industrialized society. I realize that some individuals will
have respiratory problems on these few days, but is the solution to cut off
highway funds, which will result in more traffic snarls and even more

-- Jerry Burns

I've lived in Houston for many years; the air has been getting
worse, especially during the 1990s. With the planned expansion of the port
it will undoubtedly get even worse. The Texas economy is booming; meanwhile we
are like frogs in slowly boiling water.

-- Bill Fason


Fear and loathing in Latvia


Latvia is not the most boring or least expensive place in the Baltics.
I lived in Riga for several years and traveled extensively in Lithuania and Estonia.
Riga is a vibrant city with a mixture of Russian ethnic and
Latvian population; it's full of wonderful cafes, places to eat, museums,
culture and friendly people. Your self-centered story
tells us nothing about the country.

-- Bill Edwards

Arlington, Va.

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