Letters to the Editor

Andrew Sullivan defends his politics
Plus: You don't have a right to privacy on your boss's time; did HIV+ mom make the right choice?

Published December 15, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

"The Trouble With Normal" by Michael Warner

If your readers relied on Peter Kurth for an understanding of what I have
written or argued for, they might well be alarmed. According to Kurth, I am a
relentless moralizer, someone who has attempted to stigmatize and exclude
others less "normal" than myself, someone who wants to police gay sex lives,
shut down bathhouses, ignore AIDS, elevate marriage as the "only" form of
human happiness and deny basic civil rights to homosexuals. Even worse, I am
white, privileged, callous and selfish. I don't even deserve the moniker
"writer." I'm one of a handful of mere "conservative publicists."

Anyone who has even the faintest acquaintance with my work will know that
this is pure paranoid, slanderous fantasy. My long-held support for equal
marriage rights has always been based on giving more people access to a
central, powerful institution in our culture and our society. I have no
desire to stigmatize people who don't want to avail themselves of it. I just
want to give them the choice, something Kurth apparently wants to deny them.
I do think that for many people, access to marriage would be a humanizing and
ennobling thing. But the unmarried, even sexual adventurers, would get no
grief from me. Why should they? In my most recent book, "Love Undetectable," I
defended the beauty and mystery and spirituality of sex, including anonymous
sex. And I argued for the primacy of friendship as a human relationship above
romantic love. On a personal level, I have never been in a long-term romantic
relationship, and am perfectly happy without one. Where Kurth invents his
fantasy of my desire to dragoon the unwilling into marital slavery I have no

For the record, I have never argued for shutting down bathhouses, except
during the very beginning of the epidemic when, with little public
understanding of safe sex, it would have clearly saved lives. I also oppose
policing of anything but the most egregiously in-your-face public sex. I have
never simply lambasted circuit parties, merely tried to understand them, and
to provide a more stable means for community and affection than a temporary
drug high. I favor the legalizing of most currently banned drugs. I have a
long record of criticizing conservative moralists, most recently in a New
York Times Magazine cover story lamenting the decline of conservatism. Most
objective readers would, I think, characterize my politics as pretty

I have also never written that there is an "end of AIDS." In
1996, I wrote that there was an end in America of a "plague" -- not of AIDS
itself. And no one now denies that that year was a watershed in the American
epidemic, when death rates fell precipitously and new treatments liberated
thousands from debilitating illness. If this was not an end to a plague
period, what was it? There is also no evidence, contra Kurth, that this has
reversed itself. Death rates continue to drop, if more slowly.
Epidemiologically, the peak of AIDS in America is now widely recognized to have occurred in 1993.

It is true I oppose "hate crimes" legislation, on First Amendment grounds,
and for all groups, not just gay people. But I have long argued for basic
civil rights for homosexuals, most importantly the right to marry and to
military service. I regard these rights as more fundamental constitutionally
and morally than the current identity-politics agenda of the far left, which
is an honest difference of opinion. The difference is that I don't claim that
the left has no concern for most gay people because of their beliefs. Why
does Kurth seek to impugn my motives because of mine?

But he does more than this. He tries to dismiss my work because I'm an
"affluent white [man] with well-established media connections." What on earth
does he mean by this? That someone's views should be discounted because of
the color of their skin? That someone who has made a modest success as a
writer should therefore be shunned? I started with no "media connections." I
come from a modest background (neither of my parents went to college), and I
started in journalism as an intern. The only possible inference from these
kinds of slurs is that they are motivated purely by racism and envy. Kurth
also implies that my views and the views of other gay writers are
illegitimate because they do not reflect the ideas of a leftist movement that
first "gave them the freedom to speak." Excuse me? My freedom to speak rests
on the First Amendment to the Constitution, an amendment Kurth's allies, with
their penchant for speech codes and hate-crimes laws, would seek to curtail.

-- Andrew Sullivan

Big Brother is reading your e-mail



The entire concept of "worker privacy" is ridiculous. When you're an
employee, someone is paying for your time. They've provided the computer
on your desk as a tool to do your job. They've spent thousands of dollars
hooking up their intranet to the Internet to facilitate your work. They
haven't done these things so you can spend your day surfing the Web.

If a company like Red Hat wants to give its employees carte blanche to use
these tools however they please, as an employee perk, fine. But of course
companies have the right to supervise the use of the company's time,
materials and tools, and to take action when they're not used as intended.

The message is clear and reasonable: If you want to the privacy to peruse
pornography, buy your own computer and do it at home on your own time.
Otherwise, quit whining and get back to work.

-- M. Therrien

For your author to minimize the risk of sexual harassment suits faced by employers
who fail to monitor employee e-mail is to betray an utter lack of contact
with reality. As an attorney who represents employers in such cases, I can assure you
that no company that monitors computer communications does so with
pleasure. They do it because they are, quite properly, scared. One major company, for instance,
recently settled a lawsuit, for an exorbitant sum, that was based on
nothing more than the off-color e-mail joking that your author appears to laugh off.

Under current law, it is not enough for an employer to stop harassment
after an employee complains, as your author suggests. The employer can
still be liable in such a case for failing to take adequate preventative
measures -- and the fact that such off-color e-mailing occurs at all
certainly makes it difficult to argue that adequate preventative measures
were in place. I have heard plaintiff's attorneys argue that the failure to
monitor e-mail is evidence in itself that the employer is not taking
reasonable steps to prevent harassment -- and is therefore liable if
employees are found sending ribald emails or surfing sexual Web sites.

Sure, I would prefer a world in which my e-mail and my surfing habits were my business. And I personally find it hard to accept that people can sue over e-mails and Internet sites. Unfortunately, I do not write the laws in
this area. And the same employees who expect their employers to guarantee
them a workplace free of anything they consider unpleasant cannot turn
around and demand privacy when their own conduct is scrutinized.

-- Roger Mexico

This article mentioned that many folks are using Web-based free e-mail
sites for personal e-mail to avoid being monitored by their employers.
Unless folks set up encryption for their transmissions, employers can
monitor this traffic almost as easily as e-mail sent to and from their own

Since Web sessions are sent in clear text by default,
all it takes is a packet sniffer set up on the appropriate physical
segment of their network and a list of keywords. It's trivial.
The only way to have some reasonable assurance that e-mail or other
Internet communications are private is to use some sort of encryption
scheme, such as PGP.

-- Phredd Groves

Sophie's choice


Who owns a child? Traditionally, it has been the parents. It is only in
this century that the traditional ways are being challenged by
governments. Now there are situations where children are kept away from
their mothers because someone in power deems the mother's parenting
choices -- such as choosing a home birth,
breast-feeding a toddler, refusing a cesarean section -- to be harmful.

We all can agree that children should not be
starved or physically injured or sexually assaulted. But we cannot all agree
that AZT is the "right" thing to do in this particular case. In cases
where there is no clear agreement, then it is up to the parents to decide.
I don't want anyone to come and take my child for doing something that
is outside the mainstream view.

-- Nikki Lee

I cannot believe that the medical community is forcing these strong drugs
upon young children. Any sort of auto-immune disorder needs to be treated
with the utmost care and concern for the mental health and stress of the
individuals involved. The action of removing these two children from
their mother's care puts incredible stress on their bodies and incredible
stress upon their mother. If these children do develop any illnesses I
would put the blame on those who are preventing these children from living
a stress-free, love-filled childhood.

A strong immune system is impossible without exercising, eating a healthy diet, feeling loved and feeling safe. These doctors have violated the mother's right to care for and love her children. The medical community is not the omniscient, all powerful community that it pretends to be. To force such a controversial treatment upon anyone against their will makes no sense.

-- Kim Naugle

This lady did not have her child's interest at heart when she delivered her child vaginally (increasing the risk of contracting AIDS 15 percent). She did not have anything other than her own selfish interests at heart when she conceived her second child, knowing the risk of AIDS to the newborn. Brassard has held her own self-interest above that of anyone else. She should be criminally charged with the neglect of her own children. If her second child should perish from AIDS, she should be charged with manslaughter.

-- Joseph Bruce

Evidence that HIV even causes AIDS
grows more scarce every day -- not unusual since a virus model that allowed
retroviruses to cause such systemic damage would violate 70 percent of what we
know about virology. Soon, the HIV-causes-AIDS myth will join
bloodletting as the fraud it is.

-- Dick Fitz

Hand holding for moms


I have been a doula since 1986 and I have seen so many families that felt
like the Brauers. The biggest reason is the reassurance that a
knowledgeable, compassionate woman will help the mom and dad to feel
comfortable with the birth experience, to help reduce the fear of the unknown that labor causes. Hopefully, more people will get involved in promoting it to the insurance companies and
more women can have the comfort of a doula at their births.

-- Cyndi Whitwell

Memories of an Aggie Bonfire boy


Without question, the bonfire at A&M is full of ritual. Hey, the whole school
is. Still, to say that George W. and the elder Bush's attendance at the memorial service had anything to do with their memberships in a secret society is a slap in the face to the school that
houses the elder Bush's presidential library and the state that his son still
governs. I dislike those two as much as the next Democrat, but at least let
them mourn without indictment of their motivation.

-- Bryan Bickford

Morris wasn't there on Nov. 18 to see Bonfire fall, nor were any of his friends among the 12 fallen Aggies who lost their lives. Morris failed to mention the fact
that there were two females, Miranda Adams and Jaime Hand, who died that night, or the fact that the friendships built from bonfire made between men and women who come together to participate in something they believe in: the physical manifestation of the Spirit of Aggieland. It's obvious by his tone and
content of his article that his stay at A&M and in the Corps of Cadets was
not a happy one. But what I feel the most sorrow for is that during his
time in Bonfire, he only saw the physical labor and "abuse" that he wrote
about, and didn't get to truly know the people who were out there at 2:30 a.m. on a Wednesday night to build the hell outta Bonfire.

-- Hunter Ekvall

Texas A&M class of '99

Turning 12 kids into martyrs just turns my stomach -- I sincerely doubt that, had they known the
stack was going to collapse, any of them would have been willing to trade
their lives to give the university, its students and its alumni another
reason to champion such a pointless tradition.
But then, I'm one of those people that believes that if you're going to
cut down that much wood, you should donate it to Habitat for Humanity; and
if A&M wants to be so proud of something, they should devote all those
hours to community service instead of building a bonfire. Making a
permanent contribution to their community and to other people's lives
would have a much longer-lasting impact than the amount of time it takes
that bonfire to burn.

-- Karen Krenek

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