Letters to the editor

How much blame can the '60s take? Plus: Scantily clad women have replaced Joe Camel; Japanese girls shouldn't encourage panty freaks.

Published February 14, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Himmelfarb vs. the '60s


Bravo, Charles Taylor! Thank you for a well-thought-out essay on another of the books that seems to appear with the inevitability of liver spots whenever a conservative writer reaches a certain age.

Himmelfarb's book raises a serious question that has troubled me for some time. I have just published my first academic book. Before it was accepted, three qualified scholars read the manuscript, pointing out errors of logic, suggesting the need for more verification and indicating parts that simply needed to be rewritten because the thread of the argument got tangled. Does a person like Himmelfarb reach a certain point in his or her career when this sort of peer review ceases, like teaching observation of non-tenured faculty?

-- Thomas Barran

Both conservatives and liberals make themselves ridiculous because both make the mistake of treating the '60s as the most crucial decade of the century. Teenagers and college kids weren't running the country in the 1960s, middle-aged men were. The '30s and '40s made the world we live in.

A generation of young men, having grown up in the Depression, was put into uniform and marched off to war. Hundreds of thousands of them were killed and wounded, all the rest were shell-shocked. The survivors were brought home, stuffed into gray flannel suits, sent to work as yes-men in a resurgent corporate-consumerist soul-devouring culture, convinced to raise their families in suburban ticky-tacky prisons, and then forbidden to talk about the most important experiences of their lives.

The divorce rate began to rise, drugs entered the cultural mainstream, sex became a national obsession, and fathers began abandoning their children, physically or emotionally in the late 1940s and early '50s. All the things Himmelfarb blames on the children of these war-haunted men began when the "Greatest Generation" came limping home.

-- David Reilly

Can't we ever get past this ridiculous notion that we as a nation dropped off the moral radar screen after the 1960s? And that before then we were a beacon of unimpeachable rectitude? Not only is this view based on denial, fear and ignorance, I also can't help thinking that it is oh-so-slightly racist: ask a black man or woman which time they would prefer to live in, the past or the present. Could Himmelfarb's objection to the socio-cultural-political shift have to do with "those people" having the nerve to demand simple human rights?

Afraid to live, afraid to love, afraid to think, poor Gertrude wants to have life spoon-fed to her. Good luck to her. The rest of us will carry on, questioning authority when necessary, indulging our private proclivities with any and all consenting partners and trying to navigate the thorny issues contemporary existence throws our way (divorce, abortion, violence, corruption) one day at a time, according to requirements of our own individual beliefs.

-- Ken Munch

It seems Charles Taylor is guilty of exactly the same crime of which he accuses Ms. Himmelfarb. Anyone who begins by saying:

"Having stuck only the daintiest toe into the waters of her erudition ... I hope her other work does something to justify her repute."

And concludes by saying:

"If you have no experience of the subject at hand, the smart thing to do is shut the hell up."

is a hypocrite, an idiot, or both.

-- Greg Ludvik

The Gitane affair


Voila! Debra Ollivier has found "le mot juste" in describing France's reluctance to protect nonsmokers: "anti-Americanism." The French are in a state of pique over American economic and cultural dominance and they see tobacco control as another form of American-style intrusion on their sacred way of life. Many times I have heard French people say, "Oh, no, we don't tell anyone where they can smoke. This isn't America, you know!" Last June I paid a visit to the Paris headquarters of Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) and the entire building was choked with cigarette smoke amidst the posters proclaiming proudly "Nous luttons contre toutes les maladies, meme l'injustice ... We fight against all diseases, even injustice!"

-- Adella Harris

Marlboro Man lives


Alex Salkever makes passing mention of Joe, the late, great spokescamel for RJ Reynolds. Fortunately, RJR buckled to public pressure to eliminate Joe Camel, as he and his cartoonish friends made smoking out to be glamorous and fun. They've certainly solved that problem with their new ad campaign, featuring drawings of scantily clad women puffing away.

-- Matthew Rice

I can't understand why such a big deal is made out of the tobacco ads when alcohol abuse is far more immediately lethal to teens. I don't recall ever hearing about any kids who wrapped themselves around a telephone pole because they were driving under the influence of nicotine, or got rushed to the hospital and had their lungs pumped after smoking too many cigarettes at a party.

I suspect that the rise in young smokers has far more to do with teens' natural urge to rebel against authority (i.e. the officially sanctioned and increasingly hysterical anti-smoking crusade) rather than brainwashing by the tobacco industry.

-- Matt Bertrand

The panty police nab one of their own

Daily incidents of "chikan" (men fondling women, notoriously on crowded trains) can be seen on the daily commute to work. Usually the Japanese woman sits passively, pretends she is asleep, and begins shaking while 20 or so people witness the incident. Once a friend of mine stomped on a drunk salaryman's foot, loudly told him to stop molesting the young woman and told him he was a disgrace to society. The woman ran after my friend to thank her. My friend replied, "Next time, do it yourself."

After three years of living in Japan, I, too, was a victim of the infamous panty lovers. I had four pairs of panties and two bras stolen from my second story veranda. I immediately reported the incident to the local police with no luck. No doubt the panties are now being sold in a back alley somewhere in Shibuya.

Certainly it is great that a cop was condemned for taking photos of a girl's crotch. But I have no sympathy for women who don't speak up or wear skirts so short that you can see their underwear when they are walking up a flight of stairs. Wise up, Japanese gals.

-- Stephanie Gorman

Is this child pornography?


In December 1998, when my twins were one month old, my husband and I snapped pictures of our babies in Christmas outfits. We also decided to shoot some pictures of them naked, thinking a precious picture of their naked bottoms might make a cute Christmas picture to send out. When I went to pick up the pictures from the photo lab, the owners shoved the negatives at me, saying they refused to print them and insinuated that I was a child pornographer. Shocked nearly beyond function, I managed to protest, saying "But these are our twins. They're just naked pictures of newborn babies." They told me we lived in a sick world and that I should leave.

I thought I had entered the Twilight Zone. I drove home in a stunned stupor, told my husband the story and then began a crying spell that lasted for days. As a new mother, full of extra hormones, I was unable to gain perspective. I started to feel as if I had done something terribly wrong. I called a friend for comfort, who in turn called several friends of hers in law enforcement, including a superior court judge. They all told her they were horrified for me, but that I was lucky I wasn't arrested. We took the negatives to another lab and told them the story. Fortunately, the manager at this lab thought the whole matter absurd and gladly printed the pictures for us.

As I read about the cases reported in Kincaid's story, I feel a deep sadness for the unfairly accused. Pedophilia is the worst thing one can be accused of. Their scars no doubt run deep.

-- Catherine Saulino

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