Letters 09-14-2000

Bayousphere: Brother John, a.k.a. the Birdman, pauses for a moment on a hot downtown Houston day, accompanied, as always, by one of his charges.
Deron Neblett

Blowing Smoke

Light up for liberty: Writer Wendy Grossman has it backward ["Live Free and Die," August 31]. Dave Pickrell is doing what any loyal American who cares about freedom does; he is willing to die for freedom, even freedom of the press. Unfortunately Grossman has chosen to mock him for that. In my opinion, that's journalistic suicide.

If the interviewer is as "deathly allergic to cigarettes" as she claims she is, I would expect her to be dead after Pickrell blew smoke in her face. Either that or Grossman's a ghost writer.

Rebecca L. Sather
Lancaster, California

Ashes to ashes: My first wife, Judy, worked in mortgage companies from age 18 until she died at age 52 in 1990 from cancer that had metastasized from breasts to lungs. She left five children, the youngest still in high school. She worked in an environment where she was constantly exposed to secondhand smoke by a group known to have an above-average number of smokers.

I have no sympathy for smokers' rights activists who espouse the argument "live free and die" -- much less the tobacco companies that make huge profits from pitiful individuals like Mr. Pickrell and John Cummings.

For 34 years, for the smoking co-workers my sweet, dear wife worked with, it was "I live free and you die." Thank God we are past those days -- the sooner we can drive a silver spike through the heart of the cigarette companies the better!

Unfortunately the Houston Press continues to derive some of its income from tobacco ads. It's your right to accept their advertising, but it's also my right to point this out.

Pat Powers

Cough it up: We at Smokers Fighting Discrimination Inc. know as outspoken smokers we stand to be targets of the media.

Author Wendy Grossman was given editorials and writings that blew away the so-called anti-smoking facts that are used to take away the rights of smokers. These were good enough to be cited in leading newspapers. The fact that none of this was even used is inexcusable. What you did instead was print a story of people sickly and waiting to die from smoking-related causes and too tired to do anything. All the members of the group, regardless of age, are healthy, happy, involved and very caring about the personal liberties of all.

The sad shape of the so-called science that runs this smoking debate and the journalists who promote it is what we are fighting. The "truth" should be paramount in any story that comes from a newspaper with integrity.

The "politically correct" Houston Press is not to be taken seriously; it is just a "rag" not worth the paper it is printed on.

Dave Pickrell
SFD president and founder


Bathroom's down the hall: As a smoker for 25 years before I wised up, I don't understand Dave Pickrell's dilemma; he seems to think that his freedom to smoke is being taken away. Not so, Dave. You can sit in your home and smoke until you turn into a Doral menthol cigarette. What you cannot do is smoke in public places where others are subjected to your secondhand smoke. You have as much right to put your secondhand smoke in my breathing air as I have to pee in your drinking water.

Mark Taylor

Pay to Play

Symphony blue notes: Marene Gustin misspelled my name in "Can the Band Play On" [September 7].

She stated the orchestra was subjected to a 7.7 percent pay cut. There was no pay cut.

She implied the union and the Symphony Society failed to arrive at a contract in 1997. While it was a difficult negotiation, the union signed a one-year extension for the 1997-98 season.

She failed to ferret out that the musicians played a crucial role in bringing Henry Fogel into the picture: We asked him. Subsequently, the Society's insistence on a pay cut was dropped and the long-term debt was erased with conditions.

Tom Elliott

Editor's note: The story was technically correct in saying that the Houston Symphony Society cut musician wages by 7.7 percent in July 1997. However, the article neglected to mention that the wages were fully restored in September 1997 when the two sides agreed to a one-year contract extension. The money for the new contract came from grants from the Brown Foundation, the Wortham Foundation and the City of Houston.

Ill Will

Show me the money: Your article is so true ["Nowhere to Land," by Margaret Downing, August 24]! Our son has been ill since 1980, and Texas has ranked 49th in funding during all those years. How can we make this change? There are plenty of funds for the mentally retarded, but not for the mentally ill. I have worked with the mentally ill and was on the ACT Team. We were constantly trying to find food, homes, clothing, medical and dental facilities for those who have no money.

Even worse are those like my son who worked before he became ill and, because his social security is too high, cannot get Medicaid and cannot go to the group facilities that take only Medicaid patients. Everything now boils down to whether you have Medicaid to get better services. Our son paid taxes, but now receives little from the government.

Sorry, I got on my soapbox. Keep writing. Get your articles out where they will be seen by the powers that be.

Evalyn Apple

Time heals: There is a need for a hospital that offers more than crisis stabilization. People who are suffering from mental illness need to heal, and that takes time. Some of the medications take weeks to work, and medicine is not all that is needed. Family therapy, problem solving, conflict resolution, and looking behind the behavior and seeing the person are all vital.

In the first two paragraphs of the story, you gave personal information that could cause Tim Ramey great prejudice and stigma. Should that have been kept private? Couldn't having the specifics of his ill behavior published for the world to read only hurt his chance to ever have a life? How about his loneliness, rejection and hurt?

Anne Hernandez

Editor's note: Margaret Downing went into the specifics of Tim Ramey's background because that is what his mother discussed in stressing the seriousness of why she was so desperate to find good care for him.

Looking Fontastic

Clean and airy: I just wanted to drop you a note to say how much I like the new layout. The fonts are more attractive, especially those in detail paragraphs (e.g., restaurant listings). With a larger kerning in the typeface, the resulting text appears less cramped, is easier to read and has a clean look. Finally I can read the letters to the editor without squinting over my french fries. Even the four-column stories are airier. Kudos to whoever taught you the value of white space.

Rich Smith

Blind love: I must comment on the new design. I hate it.

I still love the Press, but you have made it harder to read and somewhat unappealing. The new design does not offer anything -- no readability, no modern design, no cutting-edge innovativeness. What gives?

Margie Beegle

Stand-up layout: Oh, yes, we noticed. I'm sure TV's Saturday Night Live gal who says, "Momma like, Momma like," would love the Press's new typographical changes and refreshing look. A new look for the new millennium; it's fitting.

"Groovy. Continue doing your thang, ladies and gents. Looking good."

This change is good.

James R. Willis Jr.

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