- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

The truth about Kyoto 'pollutants'

Is The Washington Times using Reuters, maybe? Or, worse, did I first turn to the other paper, by awful, early morning mistake? Alas, no. In the Feb. 20 story "Bush won't breathe easy on dash through Kyoto," one of your reporters rakishly slurs "perhaps President Bush will rethink his denunciation of the international accord to reduce air pollution, aptly named the Kyoto Protocol." Regular readers of The Times will know that Kyoto addresses not air pollutants but "greenhouse gases," which principally occur naturally and are laughably free of human health effects.

In fact, Mr. Bush's 7-minute mile, mentioned with admiration by your reporter, yielded such "pollution." Principal "greenhouse gas" carbon dioxide is also known as plant food, the head on your beer, and human exhalation.



Cooler Heads Coalition


In neglect of grammar

I read Linda Chavez's Feb. 15 Commentary column "Parsing out grammar" with approval and pleasure. Yet I notice that Mrs. Chavez, like most other advocates of more serious instruction in writing, leaves some things unsaid that badly need saying.

Smart-aleck students are fond of asking rhetorically what is good writing, why it should matter, what grammar has to do with it, and why only English teachers care about it?

Writing is good insofar as it has the effect the writer wants.

If a piece of writing is to have a desired effect, the intended reader must find it hard to put down and impossible to misunderstand. Only teachers have to read writing that turns them off. Outside school, in what students call "the real world," even people who disparage standards in writing stop reading when they run into sloppy spelling, misleading punctuation, nonstandard grammar, vague or inaccurate wording, and syntax that is tiresome to follow. Here the careless writer scores not a symbolic "C" but a real zero.

A good sentence is one that says precisely what the author means in as few and as familiar words as possible. It keeps the reader on track and requires only a single reading to be understood. For example, if the word "trunks" is used in a sentence, the reader should not need to read subsequent sentences to know whether the author is referring to stems, snouts, big boxes with handles, or a man's swimsuit.

Since I have not read the publications of the National Council of Teachers of English for many years, I cannot confidently judge the pronouncements Mrs. Chavez attributes to it, but there is a sense in which their disregard for grammar reflects reality. The teaching of grammar really serves no useful purpose for most students because most students do not learn it, and of the few who do, most forget it as soon as they can. Besides, not many English teachers know grammar well enough to teach it, much less to feel or impart any joy in it.

Why? Well, where do English teachers come from? A math professor colleague of mine once said to me, "You seem to think the students who become English majors in this college are the ones who are good in English. They're not; they're the ones who don't want to think systematically about anything." I have no reason to believe that that college was peculiar.



'Imperfect' families or foster care?

In response to Dr. James Dobson's Feb. 12 Op-Ed "Pediatricians vs. children," I disagree with Dr. Dobson's stance that homosexuals should not be permitted to adopt children.

I consider myself a solid social conservative, and I used to be against homosexual adoption. Then, while pursuing the adoption of my own child (as a single parent), I learned more about the horrors of the U.S. foster-care system and the fate of the children trapped there. There are tens of thousands of American children who will never be adopted because they are older, handicapped, racial minorities, or emotionally scarred from being shuttled between multiple foster homes and abusive parents.

Ask any child subjected to this nightmare whether he would rather stay in the foster care system or have a permanent home with a loving parent who happens to be gay. If the gay parent in question is a decent, responsible human being with a stable job and loving home in other words, outwardly indistinguishable from a heterosexual person why shouldn't this child have a chance at a normal, happy childhood? (Keep in mind that adoptive parents are subject to FBI fingerprinting, criminal and child-abuse background checks, financial scrutiny, intrusive interviews by social workers, and a "home study" that ensures the child will be raised in a healthy environment.) It makes no sense to deny homosexuals the chance to adopt children if they are qualified in every other way.

Gays are not competing with married couples to adopt healthy white infants. Like other single adoptive parents, they are usually willing to take the children no one else wants the older children, the black children or the babies born with HIV. These children should not be denied homes simply because, as Dr. Dobson puts it, "future health implications are unclear." In fact, by his reasoning, heterosexual singles should also be prohibited from adopting. Countless studies show that children raised in single parent households are more likely to fall prey to all kinds of societal ills. But Dr. Dobson fails to understand that, first, adoptive parents are carefully screened, so study conclusions cannot be generalized to this more select group, and second, children are far better off with "imperfect" families than in foster care or orphanages.

If there were a shortage of available children, it might be morally defensible to limit adoption to married heterosexuals. But that's not reality. The reality is there are thousands of children waiting for permanent families. If the choice for an unwanted child is a loving home with a single or gay parent or no home at all, the better choice is clear.

Just ask the children.


Potomac Falls, Va.

More to Metro malfunctions than meets the eye?

Good for The Washington Times. For the Feb. 20 story "New Metro car malfunction made woman fear for life," your reporter dug past Metro's official explanation for the Jan. 9 train accident, finding that it may not have been due to a "malfunction" after all. I doubt that many other newspapers would have done more than take Metro's word for it.

I hope that you follow up on this story and pin down Metro on whether a malfunction of the Metro car or a modification to the car was responsible for the accident, not stopping until you get the full, technical explanation. Metro's confusion lowers my confidence in the safety of their services.



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