- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 15, 2000

Not so 'Wild about Harry'

Mona Charen is one of my heroes, but she misses the mark on Harry Potter ("Wild about Harry," Commentary, July 13).

The books are entertaining, and I enjoyed them a lot. They are, however, like a lot of "good" movies you end up swallowing lesser but objectionable aspects because the movie seems good overall.

Every objectionable bit hurts. Not one critic I have read has objected to the coarseness and vulgarity in the books (troll snot all over a sword; earwax, vomit and bugger-flavored jellybeans; burping and vomiting up slugs I stopped counting after the 10th mention of the latter).

I suppose the coarseness gets lost in the brouhaha over the witch/ wizard content.

C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia" these aren't. Evil is portrayed as evil, but the good characters are just nice: They don't model virtue nearly to the extent that the nasty characters portray evil and vice. All through these books, vice is exemplified much more than virtue. Snide remarks and sniggering laughter appear repeatedly. Also, the good characters such as Harry, appealing as he is, lie and disobey in small amounts, whenever it's convenient, and always with impunity.

A theme running through all these books is that witches (and wizards) are just nice people who have gotten bad press, who can choose to use their powers for good or evil. The utter contempt with which the author treats the "human" characters who fear or don't believe in witches must have some purpose. She spends too much time building up a case against these people, making them completely repulsive. The contrast between these people (narrow, conformist, gross) and the exhilarating, imaginative, exciting world of wizard school is striking and present in all four books.

Whether the author does it to entertain her readers or for more sinister purposes is not for me to say, but the Harry Potter books might be disarming in more ways than one.


Chevy Chase

Column about ethanol, campaign finance quickly runs out of gas

Martin Schram's July 8 commentary was the latest Washington Times article to incorrectly describe the federal tax credit used to promote domestic, renewable ethanol ("Backdoor campaign finance," Commentary, July 8).

I'm not sure why a columnist would argue against a tax credit that provides a net savings to the federal budget of nearly $3.6 billion and promotes the use of an environmentally friendly, domestic and renewable fuel. While I don't understand why any American wants to put more power into the hands of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, it is certainly his right to make that suggestion.

However, the writer ought to get his facts straight. Mr. Schram incorrectly claims that tax credits for using ethanol go to ethanol producers. That is simply not true.

It is the oil refiners and gasoline blenders who receive the tax credit as an enticement to blend a nonpetroleum product in their fuel. The Internal Revenue Service instructions for Form 720, the Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return, clearly state on page 10 that when applying for the ethanol tax credit: "The person that produced the gasohol [gasoline blended with ethanol] is the only person eligible to make this claim."

Ethanol producers do not blend gasoline. Ethanol producers do not receive one penny of the tax credit. To suggest otherwise shows a lack of knowledge about energy tax policy and perpetuates a falsehood. Readers of The Washington Times would be better served by more informed opinions.



Renewable Fuels Association



Martin Schram writes that "Politicians … solicit money for their campaigns from the special interests" who "invest their money in the campaigns" and then "reap huge profits" from "tax breaks." Mr. Schram cites widespread agreement with his depiction of the campaign finance system to prove that regulation is needed.

While Mr. Schram is correct in his description of this political process, he is wrong in labeling it corruption. Rather, it is how democracies normally function: Individuals and coalitions vote for and give support to candidates who will represent their interests.

His analysis does not illustrate that campaign contributions goad Congress into voting certain ways. Rather, it is Congress' votes that attract money. This explains the correlation of money and votes.

Pro-regulators such as Mr. Schram simply perceive the chain of causality in reverse from reality.



Times sometimes goes down the wrong track with its Metro coverage

The Washington Times editorial "Metro spins its wheels" (June 20) raises some legitimate concerns that we agree need our immediate attention, but it also seriously misses the mark by misrepresenting certain situations and by implying that we are an organization lacking responsiveness and accountability in other areas.

A recent review of Metro's procurement processes found that of 51 areas examined, Metro met or exceeded standards in 42 of them. The nine areas that were found to be "deficient" were relatively minor in nature; most have already been corrected or will be in the near future. They were not "violations," as they were characterized in The Times.

Most importantly, the review found no instances of any improper conduct on the part of any Metro employee.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) officials clearly stated that their findings from the recent Metro procurement review were similar to the kinds of "deficiencies" they typically find with other large transit systems around the nation.

It also should be noted that the position of director of procurement and materials was eliminated in response to a suggestion from the FTA review that the procurement function be elevated in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's overall organizational structure.

The procurement director now reports directly to an assistant general manager, rather than at a level below that.

Anyone reading your editorial would have come away with a much different impression of the outcome of the FTA review process than what was actually found. Are there some areas where we can improve our procurement processes? Absolutely. But we feel that meeting or exceeding federal standards 82 percent of the time is a good starting point.

As we also have acknowledged on several occasions, we are not happy with our handling of the April 20 fire between our Farragut West and Foggy Bottom-GWU stations, or with some of the other more recent operational mishaps on which your newspaper has reported. However, we have been taking whatever actions that may be necessary including additional training, modification of procedures and personnel changes if warranted to prevent similar mishaps from recurring.

Meanwhile, we have made adjustments to the safety rules and procedures that govern how we respond to reports of smoke and fire. In an effort to minimize the recent delays experienced by our passengers, we recently met with the area's fire chiefs and agreed on a course of action that not only protects passenger safety but also improves passenger convenience.

In addition, we have called in a peer review group of experts from around the country to take a look at what we do. We intend to institute further changes, if necessary, based on their recommendations.

In providing more than 1 million passenger trips per day via 29,000 daily rail station stops and approximately 1,200 daily buses, sometimes we do make mistakes. We recognize that these can have significant impacts on our customers. When that happens, we try to honestly acknowledge those mistakes, make changes to reduce the likelihood of them recurring in the future and set out to do better the next day.

While we are certainly in the transportation business, we also are in the business of continuous improvement. We are always looking for new and better ways to improve our policies, procedures and processes. And we take on issues that need to be addressed quickly. We are doing this at a challenging time, what with an aging system and the day-to-day issues associated with serving record ridership levels.

Unfortunately, The Times continues to take a "glass half-empty" approach in its news and editorial coverage of Metro issues. By focusing primarily on the negative, while continuously overlooking the many improvements and benefits we have worked hard to deliver to our customers, your newspaper does a disservice to its readers by providing a less than balanced view.


General manager

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit



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