- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 26, 2005

Gonzo in perspective

I read R. Thomas Berner’s commentary “‘Gonzo’ under glass” (Friday) with great disappointment. The article is typical of the way in which Hunter S. Thompson’s work is only superficially understood and then dismissed.

I want to make it clear that I believe Mr. Thompson’s work is not for everyone and that not everyone will have the deep connection with his writing that his fans do. However, I would expect that, under the circumstances, the editors would choose someone with a better understanding of Mr. Thompson’s work to be featured.

The paragraph that is most representative of Mr. Berner’s misunderstanding of Mr. Thompson’s work is the one dealing with his book “Hell’s Angels.” To say that his aim in the book was “to show that the motorcycle gangs are not the heinous people they’re portrayed as in the press,” though he was “man enough to admit he was wrong” after he was stomped by the Angels is to fundamentally misunderstand the book. “Hell’s Angels” is not a defense of the Angels. The book is littered with details of their savage behavior and outlaw mentality. If nothing else, the book serves as a thorough explanation of its conclusion.

What “Hell’s Angels” is, and what all of Mr. Thompson’s work aims to be, is an honest look at a situation that is popularly misunderstood. Mr. Thompson’s goal when writing “Hell’s Angels” was to get past the media’s demonization of the motorcycle club and to get at the real truth of the matter.

He was not out to oppose the mainstream press simply for the sake of opposing them; he was out to oppose the mainstream press because the stories they were printing were filled with hype, paranoia, and, yes, fear and loathing. “Hell’s Angels” is an honest look at the Angels and their reasons for being. It does not pretend there is goodness where there is none, and it does not pretend there is evil where there is none.

I suggest that Mr. Berner take a look at more than what he deems “Mr. Thompson’s best work” (especially some of the letters in “Proud Highway”), as it might help him achieve a more thorough understanding of the work.

“Gonzo” is more than telling what happened on the way to the Republican National Convention for the 1972 election; it’s giving a human context to stories that, in the end, affect us all personally, regardless of the objective facts of the situation.

With the loss of Mr. Thompson, we have lost one of the greatest forces for real truth in American journalism at a time when we need such forces more than ever. He will be sorely missed.

Rest in peace, godfather of gonzo.


Arlington, Mass.

Social Security needs realistic ideas

Walter Williams’ column “Social Security deceit” (Commentary, Thursday)addresses the “mission creep” that has brought into question the program’s long-term viability.

Stopping short of calling President Franklin D. Roosevelt the political Max Bialystock of his day, Mr. Williams posits that fungibility is a prerequisite for financial knavery by stating: “[T]here’s no Social Security account containing your money. But more importantly, the Supreme Court has ruled on two occasions that Americans have no legal right to Social Security payments.”

The problem with President Bush’s private-account alternative is that in a city where process becomes content, his arguments for Social Security reform approximate the forensic metrics for global warming.

Large numbers and distant horizons are fertile ground for political demagoguery. Rather than using emotional proxies for conservative and liberal positions, let’s develop realistic constructs for political strategies that balance societal rights and individual responsibilities for retirement.



Assisted suicide and Oregon

The story “Court to mull assisted suicide” (Nation, Wednesday) gets the facts backward.

The Bush administration did not “challenge” the Oregon law allowing physician-assisted suicide. Rather, after that law passed, the U.S. attorney general issued a directive reminding Oregon that whatever it may allow doctors to do, use of controlled substances such as barbiturates is governed by an additional level of federal review. Licenses to prescribe these drugs are obtained only from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Since 1984, Congress has said such a license may be revoked if the doctor uses these drugs to endanger health and safety, regardless of whether he has violated state law.

The attorney general noted that no federal health program and no national medical organization recognize assisted suicide as a safe or ethical medical procedure. Therefore, if Oregon doctors want to assist suicides, they will have to use something else.

Oregon, insisting that its doctors want to use federally controlled barbiturates for assisted suicides, sued the federal government, challenging the attorney general’s directive. The state is trying to invalidate a federal policy, not the other way around.

The article also slips into misleading euphemism by saying that Oregon doctors prescribe these drugs to “help people die more quickly.” This has nothing to do with facilitating the progress of a terminal illness. It involves introducing a new and direct cause of death, drug overdose. This court case will decide whether Oregon can unilaterally require the federal government to provide the lethal means.

RICHARD M. DOERFLINGER Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops


Think before building stadium

As a baseball fan raised in the D.C. area who saw his first major league game at Griffith Stadium, I read with interest the piece about the architects bidding to design the new stadium (“Stadium design draws eight bidders, Sports, Wednesday).

However “representative of 21st-century architectural ideals” the stadium is, let us hope the seating is conducive to watching a baseball game. RFK Stadium was built as a baseball stadium. Every seat points to a location about 20 feet behind second base — essentially, the center of the playing field. It is a pleasure to watch a baseball game at RFK.

This is not true of Camden Yards, which was the harbinger for the “new” baseball stadiums. I have sat through games at Camden Yards where I had to either sit sideways in my seat to view the action or, if sitting straight, had to crane my neck 60 degrees. No fun. I assume the angular nature of the seating at Camden Yards was driven by cost considerations.

I sincerely hope the architect or architects take into consideration the practical comfort of the fans in the seats as they watch a game. Let them design a giant replica of the Jefferson Memorial complete with faux marble if that is what they want to do, as long as the seats face in the proper direction.


Purcellville, Va.

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