The kitty police! The p.c. police! The first lady police!

Readers sound off on a week's worth of Life.

Published May 19, 2003 6:00PM (EDT)

[Read "No 'Heroines,' Owls, Birthdays or Pumpkins -- They Might Offend Somebody," by Laura McClure.]

Thank God for Diane Ravitch! The people designing the modern educational curriculum all seem to be drawn from a bloodless, thin-skinned and frightened gene pool. They think our children are stupid and dangerous. My parents never thought to limit what I and my siblings read. I remember being variously insulted, titillated and disturbed by books that were probably too mature for me. But, I managed to reach adulthood with no lasting injury.

When my children started to school in the '90s, I hated the "books" they were given to read -- the intellectual equivalent of pablum. As soon as the little tykes began complaining of boredom, I pointed them to the "grown-up" section of libraries and bookstores. They chose books I would never have read, books that worried me a bit, books that I carefully removed from sight when grandparents came to visit. And as they read, we talked about the ideas in those books. They discovered a love for words and I discovered what wonderful people I'd given birth to.

When my youngest was 9, he brought home "Where the Red Fern Grows," and I held my breath waiting for him to cry his way through the sad part. He did. Then he brought me the book and said the words that vindicated my decision and indicted those insipid souls who believe that children can't face the world as depicted in the great unwashed world of real books: "Mommy, when I grow up I want to write books that make other people feel just like 'Where the Red Fern Grows' makes me feel. I want to write books that make people feel right where their hearts are."

-- Sunny Hemphill

While I completely agree with the spirit of this article and could tell you stories even more ridiculous, I'd like to make a small correction in the following paragraph:

"In Massachusetts just a couple of weeks ago there was a great flap because it turned out that the state asked the students to imagine what a snow day might be like, and there was a great hullabaloo ... So now those students are going to have to retake the test because people argued that large numbers of children cannot imagine what a snow day is."

The actual MCAS question was more like "Describe what you did on one of this year's snow days" and, in fact, Boston hasn't had a snow day in two years. We can argue over how many students actually arrived from Latin America, Vietnam and Cape Verde in the last two years, but I'm pretty sure that if the question had been to "imagine" a snow day, there wouldn't have been a problem.

Also, retaking the test is optional.

-- Randy Nielsen

Maybe we should start applying the "sticks and stones" principle to everyday life ... then break the bones of these "sensitivity reviewers."

-- Christopher Taylor

As a textbook editor, I take issue with Diane Ravitch's assumption that textbook publishers are actually in control of the current situation. We are not nonprofits. We are not government-run. We need to make money to keep our jobs.

Yes, we shoulder quite a bit of pressure from various groups to omit certain types of stories from our books. Yes, some of those omissions are maddening. And yes, it should change. But until they do, I would love to see the business plan that Ms. Ravitch has in mind that customizes a million different versions of a program for a million different teachers.

-- Name withheld

[Read "Who's Afraid of Teresa Heinz?" by Jennifer Foote Sweeney.]

This brouhaha has just nailed another vote for John Kerry. Too bad she isn't running or I'd vote for her. Since it is so hard to distinguish anything remarkable about any of the Democratic candidates, protesting this ridiculous backlash against Kerry's wife seems as good a reason to vote as any when your main goal is to oust the Republicans. Too frivolous? Frankly, Scarlet, I don't give a shit.

The allusions to the Stepford Wives really ring true. We seem to be entering an era that is more '50s than the '50s, with no deviation from the party line allowed. Will we rise up and change the picture in '04? Or is the American public going to march, zombielike, in lockstep with Bush and the Dr. Strangeloves?

Maybe I should move to Canada.

-- Nora Brossard

Thanks for the refreshing response that you (and Conason, too) made to John Tierney's smarmy story in the New York Times Tuesday! Re "lady-like" behavior: How quickly we forget! Who was it who snidely referred to Geraldine Ferraro as -- "rhymes with rich"? (Was that classy, or what?) And speaking of bad taste: What does the size of Ms. Heinz Kerry's bank account -- or how she chooses to spend it -- have to do with her husband's running for office? Are we to assume that only Republicans and crooked CEOs are entitled to be well off? And as for expressing her love for her first husband: Would people prefer that she trash his memory, or just pretend that the marriage never happened?

You sort of lost me, though, with the reference to "morality ... trumping (among other qualities) feminism." Since when are those two tenets mutually exclusive?

-- Marjorie McKenna

It would be too good to be true. A Democratic president with a brain, a heart and a plan, married to a partner of like consequence. I believe Bill and Hillary started that trend. Teresa Heinz sounds like a dynamite person and John Kerry hasn't turned me off yet. He had better do a gut-check, take the gloves off and start attacking the present White House tenant on all the issues that Salon brings up regularly and the thinking public knows to be true. Hopefully, Teresa will assist John in these pursuits. If so, I (and many others) will campaign for him (them) in a heartbeat.

-- Paula Kwakenat

You've got to be kidding.

You list the numerous endowments, philanthropies, institutions, etc., that she has created with her late husband's money, along with the various boards of trustees she belongs to, also courtesy of John Heinz III, and expect the average reader to somehow admire a woman for her honesty in admitting she gets Botox treatments when most of us poor working slobs don't even know what the hell that is?

Are you serious?

"Honestly, at a time when political paragons of rectitude crumble like Baghdad statues, the unabashed candor of Teresa Heinz isn't just refreshing, it is a rare virtue"

I suppose if we ALL had $500 mil in the bank, she would be a pillar of virtue.

-- Reuben L. Owens

Jennifer Foote Sweeney takes a valid point too far when she criticizes any and all observations that Teresa Heinz's outspokenness could hurt her husband's presidential campaign.

Heinz clearly has many virtues, both as a person and a political spouse. However, it is perfectly valid to say that talking about Botox treatments is "not particularly on message" or helpful in relating a candidate to the general public, as one political aide said. And while Heinz's outspokenness may be both refreshing and politically appealing, the fact remains that her job is to sell her candidate/husband, not herself. That Sweeney finds this "confounding" is itself confounding. The observation in no way demeans Heinz's status as "a strong, independent woman." To imply that it does seems shrill and naive.

Yes, it is shortsighted and insulting for political operatives to excessively "handle" someone like Teresa Heinz. And to publicly call such efforts an "ongoing project" -- if that is what happened -- is foolish. As a political professional, I think marginalizing Heinz would be a mistake. But to imply, as Sweeney does, that her candor produces nothing but politically viable wit and wisdom is merely wishful thinking.

-- Sean Carr

[Read "Short Odds on Eternal Happiness," by Lynn Harris.]

I have wondered in the past whether matchmaking is merely a math problem that can be solved. Perhaps it is. Unfortunately, despite his degrees, the faulty math behind the Soulmate Calculator doesn't bode well for Chau Vuong's attempt.

When you set your bottom limit for some trait from 100 percent to 50 percent, the resulting number of people you have to meet doubles. If you reject half the people based on this trait, it follows that you would have to meet twice the number of people to find your target.

However, this only holds true if the trait is entirely unrelated to the other traits for which you have specified limits. Many of the traits listed are correlated. For example, imagine that you set your bottom limit of writing talent to 5 percent. If you then set your bottom limit of intelligence to 50 percent, your result doubles. Is it that much harder to find a phenomenal writer with average intelligence, than just finding a phenomenal writer? Or someone with both ambition and energy? Optimism and risk tolerance?

Of course not, but these skewed results make Chau Vuong's system seem even more necessary. Was one of those degrees in marketing, perhaps?

-- Eshan Shah-Jahan

Well, at least the author had a high number, my number came out to zero. Too fussy? No, just looking for a straight white male, 41-48, every other category pretty varied. Oops, I entered "Atheist" and guess that just about threw me out of the running. Shame, don't know many Muslim white guys.

-- Linda Saunders

All right, I took the soul mate challenge: Man looking for a woman under 5-foot-10, 28 to 45, any ethnicity, divorced, etc., is fine, top third in attractiveness and compassion, top fifth in intelligence, top half in humor, and not too far to the extremes in most of the other categories, with no demand at all regarding artistic ability. I expected to get a number in the millions, like the author. I got the number 1,377.

Aha, I thought, this just shows that my female friends must be right about how much harder dating is for women. So, I redid the form, changed my gender and preference, upped my maximum and minimum height requirements by 6 inches apiece, and came up with the number 1,377.

I don't take that number that seriously. After all, I realize that a lot is left out of the equation (mainly, my own characteristics, which may determine how likely any of those 1,377 are to be interested in me). That's not what troubles me.

What troubles me is: what the hell did the author and her friends put into their equations, to get numbers in the millions? I wonder how high my number would have been if I had had the chance to indicate I was looking for a woman in the top third of the population when it comes to having realistic expectations about men? Maybe that would have bumped me into seven digits.

-- Greg Diamond

[Read "I Survived the Terror of New York Kitty Gatekeepers!" by Larry Smith.]

If it were not for the "Dorothy" you refer to in your article about Kitty Kind on Union Square, Kitty Kind would be in deep doo-doo. This not quite 100-year-old woman (I'm not at liberty to reveal her real age) has collected unbelievable sums of money from all walks of New Yorkers ... all to benefit our feline city dwellers. She does sometimes wear a purple sweater, but without her and all the other volunteers you would not have had a story worth the writing. Dorothy and others like her make up the fabric of our great city!

-- Beri Greenwald

Ironically, after dealing with the nearly psychotic Kitty Kind volunteers at PetCo (who are exactly as described in your article), I brought home a very sweet gray kitten who quickly became very ill and died a few months later of the dreaded Feline Infectious Peritonitis. The disease commonly spreads when cats in shelters or private homes are kept in close contact, sharing litter boxes and dishes for food and water.

Unlike Kitty Kind, the Humane Society of New York strictly quarantines any animals suspected of exposure to FIP or any other disease. Their animals live in a cozy light-filled room in the Humane Society building, the qualifications for adopting a cat are standardized, and potential adopters are welcomed and encouraged to adopt by friendly, helpful volunteers. When our first cat was sick and dying, doctors at the Humane Society treated him kindly and responsibly and without bankrupting us, and six months later we went back and got a scrawny kitten who has grown up to be happy and healthy and even a bit chubby around the middle.

The Humane Society is a no-kill shelter, with transparent finances and well-treated animals. I'd highly recommend that New Yorkers seeking to adopt go there first.

-- Leontine Greenberg

I think the adopter's side of this article really needs to be heard. I am what Mr. Smith would consider an Alpha cat adopter. My husband and I volunteer at a PetsMart every weekend, and trust me, much as I love cats, I would rather be somewhere else most of the time.

What Mr. Smith does not seem to understand is that rescue groups do not view cats as merchandise. We are not trying to "move" cats as if they were boxes of Tide. When we place an animal in a home, we want them there for life, as a family member. Not as a toy that gets forgotten when the kids lose interest.

Rescue groups take in cats that are so screwed up, the average owner would probably put them to sleep. As foster homes, we spend months rehabilitating traumatized animals, resocializing them, teaching them that they aren't going to be kicked, burned, shot at, hit, or thrown anymore.

Every weekend, I deal with people who want a cat, "As long as it doesn't make any noise or shed." We are not allowed to accept animals at an adoption site, due to disease control policies, but people try to abandon their animals anyway. I have been told that if I did not take this or that cat in, it would be shot that night. People scream at me when I tell them that the cat they set their sights on, usually because it was pretty, is not a good personality match. People return cats they adopted because kitty wanted too much attention, or they have to move and couldn't be bothered to find an apartment with a pets policy. People thinks kittens and small children go great together, until the child picks kitty up wrong and breaks its leg, or gets scratched by kitty and then guess where kitty goes? Right back to us.

Oh, and as for declawing. Imagine someone cutting off each of your fingers at the first knuckle. That's what a declaw does. Cats that are declawed often turn into biters, or develop litter-box aversions. They are notoriously hard to place in homes. They are a rescuer's nightmare. A declawed cat is MORE likely to be abandoned at a shelter, not less.

Next time Mr. Smith wants to gripe about us adopters and our "crazy" rules, maybe he should step around the other side of the table.

-- Leigh Dragoon

I loved Larry Smith's article. My boyfriend and I recently tried to foster a cat from the Kitty Kind people at PetCo, and we were so shaken by the experience that we vowed never to set foot in PetCo again. Ever. We're both lifelong cat owners who know a thing or two about dry food and clumping litter. Because we're in our 20s, and liable to move to a non-pet-friendly apartment at any time, we decided fostering would be the most sensible option.

When the Kitty Kind representative heard that we didn't want to adopt, she bugged out and began berating us. In a tone dripping with sarcasm, she said, "Why don't you want to ADOPT? Are you moving to ENGLAND? Are you moving to FRANCE?" Frightened, we began stuttering explanations simultaneously. She screamed, "Why are you both talking to me? Who's talking to me?" Mortified to see that curious pet owners were staring our way, we slunk out.

We're still kitty-less, and I'm sure she's still insane.

-- Emma

By Salon Staff

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