- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

Prison, education and poverty

The Inside the Beltway item “Brothers behind bars” (Nation, yesterday) refers to Rep. Charles Rangel, New York Democrat, asking a question that has been asked many times. Why are there so many blacks in our jails and prisons in comparison with whites? Several reasons are advanced, such as the three-strike rule, the mandatory sentencing guidelines, etc. It always seems to be somebody else’s fault. No mention is ever made of the most obvious reason. Could it be that blacks commit more crimes than whites?

If that is so, the emphasis should not be on the courts or the legislative rules, but on the reasons why black people commit more crimes. Poverty is one, education is another, and they are tied together. I believe people like Mr. Rangel and the Rev. Jesse Jackson also are at fault for encouraging black people to maintain a level of dependence on the government and to develop a lack of self-worth. Those two keep telling blacks they are victims. Isn’t it about time people stopped thinking that way and tried to make it on their own?

JACK DORWIN

Livingston, Texas

Christmas-unfriendly malls

As I visited Potomac Mills mall Sunday, I saw no Christmas trees, no candles and no festive banners on light poles; I heard no festive Christmas music to remind shoppers of the season (“U.S. communities fail to keep ‘Christ’ in Christmas,” Page 1, Thursday). Yes, a few stores have small decorations, and a photo shop sells pictures of young children on Santa’s knee with plenty of Christmas props nearby. But some grinch stamped out Christmas at Potomac Mills. It didn’t use to be this way. In the past, Potomac Mills was a cheerful, pro-Christmas place. Not any longer. The mall’s management is ignoring the holiday, and now, pro-Christmas customers ought to ignore the mall.

My recommendation for Christmas shoppers looking for that holiday feeling is to head for the Tysons Corner or Pentagon City malls, where the spirit of Christmas remains strong both audibly and visibly. If you absolutely have to shop at Potomac Mills, wish the cashier a Merry Christmas. Show Potomac Mills and the retail industry that we won’t give up Christmas and all that it stands for.

MEGHAN MAGINNIS

Woodbridge, Va.

Second thoughts on the arts

As a loyal reader and big fan of your newspaper, I was very disappointed by yesterday’s review of the Washington Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” (“Splashy ‘Nutcracker’ loses some charm,” Arts).

I saw it Sunday and found it outstanding: elegant, fast-moving and highly creative —exquisite in every way. (I honestly don’t believe I was prejudiced by the fact that my godchild played a “Valley Forge Bunny”; as marvelous as she was, she was only onstage for a few moments.) At the end, the audience was cheering and gave a standing ovation.

The first “Nutcracker” we saw in Washington was in the early 1970s, staged at George Washington University’s Marvin Center. I don’t know whether it was a Washington Ballet production. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, and the director chose a gloomy, highly politicized antiwar theme, with little or no lighthearted fantasies to enjoy. We were sorry we had brought our little boy.

What a delight it was to find the traditional story embellished by Septime Webre’s American motifs, with Continental soldiers fighting the redcoats, a Virginia reel, and Davy Crockett-costumed dancers in a later scene.

I rarely agree with anything in your rival paper, but I do on this issue: Its reviewer called “The Nutcracker” “… wonderfully appealing and high-spirited.”

I certainly hope the Times’ negative review won’t discourage any of your readers from enjoying this delightful production. Just seeing the gifted Michele Jimenezas the Sugar Plum Fairy and her partner, Runqiao Du, dancing together was worth the trip to the Warner Theatre.

HELEN BLACKWELL

Arlington

I was both shocked and infuriated by your article “Catholic-Jewish panel hits Gibson movie” (Page 1, Saturday). The Catholic bishops should be defending the beautiful, inspirational movie “The Passion of the Christ” and its director, Mel Gibson, a devout Catholic. Instead, the bishops pandered to Jewish groups in attacking the film.

Mr. Gibson made a film about the death and Resurrection of his Lord and Savior. For this he was attacked by various Jewish groups as a “Nazi” and an “anti-Semite.” These groups should be apologizing to Mr. Gibson for the vicious lies they told about him. In addition, the article states “there has been no proven anti-Semitic [incident] tied to the film since its release.” That is because this was a film about love, not hate.

RAY GORDON

Baltimore

Colliding faiths, moral codes

La Shawn Barber (“When worlds collide,” Commentary, Forum, Sunday) is to be commended for arguing that the culture war raging in this country is not between the religious and the amoral, but between competing moral codes — some based on theology, others on secular philosophy. What she overlooks is that all morality — whether religious or secular — is man-made. Nobody has a valid claim to absolute and everlasting truth.

Certainly the ethics of the Abrahamic religious traditions are as malleable as (if not more than) any secular ethic born of the Enlightenment. The Bible, the Torah and the Koran have been used at various times to justify slavery, the subjugation of women, witch-burning, genocide, forced conversions, suicide bombings, religious intolerance, polygamy, all manner of barbarism and war. Were these books the source of absolute morality, we would still cling to such an ethic, forged during the Iron Age. That we largely do not is testament to the influence of reason and the ability of our religiously based moral codes to evolve as our societies become more sophisticated.

Adherentsofsecular philosophies and liberal religions refuse to suspend logic and reason in deference to a supposedly divine mandate. Instead, they willingly subject ethical questions to honest and open debate. It is for this reason that the morality based on such consideration may be considered more enlightened than one based on a literal reading of selected excerpts from ancient texts. Tragically, too many otherwise reasonable men and women embrace a fundamentalist worldview and fail to recognize the human influence on their own morality. If our moral worlds are colliding, it is not because they are on an intersecting course; it is because one set of codes long ago set anchor and stands steadfastly in the way of progress.

STEVEN F. GOLDBERG

Gaithersburg

Suzanne Fields raises an important issue in her Op-Ed column “The dark side of the lights” (Thursday). These days it seems that separation of church and state has been interpreted to mean there can be no mention of religion in a public arena, particularly in public schools. A preferable interpretation, and one I believe is more in keeping with the intent of the law, would allow public schools to educate their students about at least the major world religions. In a day and age when religion is a factor in the most deadly conflicts, it is shameful if we do not equip our children with at least a rudimentary understanding of the various belief systems in the world while encouraging them to think critically about the various issues confronting a pluralistic society.

PAMELA TAYLOR

Secretary, Islamic Writers Alliance

Indianapolis

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