Mail Call

Far From a Good Influence on Today's Girls Readers reacted strongly to our cover featuring Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. "It's bad enough to see these no-talent, spoiled rich girls splashed on every tabloid. Does NEWSWEEK have to overexpose them further?" one asked. Many blamed the media for, as one put it, "making the world of DUIs, partying and neglecting their newborns" seem glamorous, while others said it's up to parents to teach good values. Some readers expressed concern for these young women and their limited futures. "They seem defined by what they don't have: talent, underwear, education, solid relationships or anything worthwhile to contribute. It is sad," one wrote. But one teenage girl proudly proclaimed to be "above the influence of all this celebrity nonsense" and noted how fortunate she is to live when women have the right to vote and have role models like Nancy Pelosi and Sandra Day O'Connor to remind "every girl that she can be who she wants to be."

Role Models, Not I was appalled when I opened my mailbox and found Britney Spears and Paris Hilton on the cover of NEWSWEEK ("Girls Gone Bad?" Feb. 12). While an article about cultural influences on young girls may be worthwhile, couldn't you have promoted it with a cover photo of interesting young women whose actions and contributions to society have even an iota of redeeming value? I thought NEWSWEEK was a newsmagazine. Paris and Britney aren't news; they are simply a sad commentary on the mixed-up values nurtured by the media in this country. They need help, not publicity. If we stopped encouraging them with so much coverage, maybe our daughters would have a chance to be exposed to positive role models instead.

Larissa Zoot

Quincy, Mass.

How clever of you to steal the readership of the tabloids by putting Britney and Paris on your cover! Thankfully, your items on Sandra Day O'Connor, Hillary Clinton and the late Molly Ivins were a perfect counterpoint to show what being a grown woman is really all about--having integrity, working hard, being smart and making a difference in the world. It's a shame that this current crop of vacuous little rich girls don't take a cue from these exemplary women and use their celebrity to draw attention to world hunger, homelessness or cancer awareness. I don't begrudge their having fun and being sexy. It would just be great if they used this attention to further something other than their silly little careers.

Alison Cain

Sherman Oaks, Calif.

As a social psychologist who works with adolescent girls and their parents, I was very interested in your fine article "Girls Gone Bad?" I wish, however, that you had presented more strategies for parents to use in their quest to raise healthy girls. Despite the suggestion that toxic celebs and their exploits are impossible to squelch, parents and educators do have many alternatives. You can spend an hour together at your local library or organize a girls-only photography club or scrapbooking group. Parents can guide girls to many alternative outlets like sports and scouting. And if you already have a supermaterialistic daughter? Volunteer with her at a soup kitchen or animal shelter, which will sensitize her to truly desperate situations and the silliness of idolizing the latest bad girl or "needing" the newest purse or jeans. Our children need a sense of proportion about consumerism. If we can recapture their attention away from the TV and movie screens, their potential will flourish beyond these sad and sick role models.

Karol Maybury

East Sandwich, Mass.

Have we forgotten that we still have control over what our children watch and listen to? My 5-year-old wouldn't know Lindsay Lohan if she came to dinner at our house. I do not home-school her, we are not devoutly religious and we have a rather large TV. But she will not wear slutty clothes because I will not buy them for her. She will not study dance in a class that teaches her to act like a "hip-hop" sex kitten. She will not see these useless "girls" in the movies because I will not take her to see them. I am the parent and I am in charge, at least for now.

Susan A. Bennett

East Meadow, N.Y.

One thing that the women's movement didn't achieve was an end to sexist notions of women's sexuality and body image. Your article touches on access to safe contraception and organized sports for women, but fails to mention that access to contraception and abortion--even for rape victims--is being eroded state by state and that Olympic athletes are encouraged to pose for Playboy. You also allude to the increasing education attained by women but don't talk about how women are still performing the majority of housework because our country fails to provide adequate paid maternity leave and child care. Why is there so much emphasis on the "girls gone bad" and not the women doing well or the majority who aren't "going wild"?

Jacquelyn Arsenuk

Milford, Conn.

It is comforting to know that the world is so uneventful as to enable one of the premier newsmagazines in the country to run a cover story on Paris Hilton's party habits. I must admit, the past week had me thinking about a few things: Iran, Hassan Nasrallah's acknowledgment of Iranian and Syrian support for Hizbullah, avian flu in the United Kingdom and even Chinese economic activity in Africa. But obviously, these things matter less than Britney Spears's and Lindsay Lohan's bad behavior. In fact, seeing Britney glare at me from your cover photo, I realize just how foolish keeping up on world events is. Those foreigners may accuse me of ignoring the larger world, but if NEWSWEEK ignores it right along with me, I feel perfectly fine.

Thomas Ewing

Iowa City, Iowa

Congratulations to NEWSWEEK for the fine article on education that stressed the need to identify failing teachers and the problems related to protecting our children from them ("Stop Pandering on Education," Feb. 12). I am retired after 30 years in the public schools. Even though I was a union member, I was appalled by the failure of the union to help weed out incompetents. Failing teachers not only hurt children, they make good teachers' jobs harder and weaken the strength of the faculty. Teacher unions must show leadership in ridding the schools of failed instructors. It is a duty they owe to the majority of their members as well as the students.

Bernard Unger

Malverne, N.Y.

Although we don't agree with all aspects of Gov. Eliot Spitzer's plan--for instance, teachers and parents want lowering class sizes in New York City treated with the same urgency as universal pre-kindergarten--we agree with Jonathan Alter that Spitzer showed leadership with his new education proposals for New York. But Alter is wrong when he makes teachers and the union the issue, and particularly wrong about charter schools. We do not oppose them--in fact the UFT operates two charter schools--but we are against the governor's proposal to give Chancellor Joel Klein 50 charters to dole out as he wishes. The current chartering entities, SUNY and the Board of Regents, have strict accountability standards and there's no reason to add another entity--given the city's Dept. of Education's poor track record of listening to teachers and parents.

Randi Weingarten, President

New York, N.Y. 'Alive Nearly 20 Years Later'

It is unfortunate that you merely reviewed the book "Medical Apartheid." Instead it should have been fact-checked ("Brutal Case Studies," Feb. 12). The author, Harriet Washington, made the unusual choice not to call our agency to review facts. Her book refers to a group of New York City foster children with AIDS in the late 1980s and early '90 s as "the perfect victims" because the city had enrolled them in clinical trials before pediatric AIDS drugs were available. At that time, New York City was the epicenter of the pediatric AIDS crisis due to the crack-cocaine epidemic. These children, many African-American and Latino, were in foster care because their parents were dead or unable to care for them. The children were extremely ill and most were dying. Urged by their doctors, the city was able to enroll these children in clinical trials for AIDS medications. As a result, many are alive--nearly 20 years later. We're making the records of what happened during those years as complete and as transparent as possible. To date, neither the independent Vera Institute of Justice nor anyone else has identified any evidence that suggests the interests of these children did not come first, or that any ethical standard was breeched. It is unfortunate Washington's book confuses rather than clarifies history.

John B. Mattingly, Commissioner

New York, N.Y.

As a wildlife rehabilitator, I constantly field calls from people asking for help with wildlife conflicts. I wish Walda Cameron had asked a professional for help instead of illegally--and cruelly--shooting the cardinal that was bothering her ("Why I Broke One of My 'Cardinal' Rules," my turn, Feb. 12). There are many ways to humanely prevent birds from banging into windows--which usually happens only in spring and summer, when territorial males mistake their reflections for intruders. You can keep blinds or curtains pulled, affix holographic decals, sun catchers, or cut-outs of hawk silhouettes outside windows, or install "invisible netting," which is nearly invisible to the human eye, to keep birds from hitting windows. With a little patience and understanding, it's easy to live in harmony with our feathered neighbors.

Evelyn Flengas

Virginia Beach, Va.

Walda Cameron's essay may have struck readers as simply amusing satire. But many Audubon members and others who care about wildlife are concerned that some readers may miss the satire and be tempted to mimic the proposed solution. We'd like to remind them that some actions are both wrong and unnecessary. Whether one is a bird lover or not, it is not only wrong but illegal to kill a northern cardinal or any species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. And, in fact, it is possible to prevent bird collisions with windows and other structures by removing the reflection from the places where they peck. This method is most successful when something is put on the outside of the window--a decal, screen, windsock--to break up its reflective nature. Instead of rethinking her belief system, the author could have put more effort into living it.

Greg Butcher, V. P. of Bird Conservation

Washington, D.C. On Global Warming

Did George Will find it inconvenient to discuss the expanding hole in the ozone and how that occurred ("Inconvenient Kyoto Truths," last word, Feb. 12)? His predictions of the economic despair that would accompany stronger environmental legislation are shortsighted. This would provide the incentive for business to develop innovative solutions and fuel the growing "green" market.

Yvonne Slate

Endicott, N.Y.

Yes, global warming could be a problem for future generations, but humans have adapted to climate change for thousands of years and there's no reason to believe that we won't do so again. The most damaging hysteria is the idea that we Americans can stop or even reverse global warming. The truth is that if we decided to conform to Kyoto limits--and no country that signed on to the treaty has yet come close to reducing its CO2 emissions to Kyoto limits--the building of coal-fired electricity-generating plants in China alone far exceeds anything we could do to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels.

L.H. McCagg

Battle Ground, Wash.

In pretending to understand global warming, George Will creates the illusion of controversy. Why would anyone wish to impede society's response to a threat that virtually all of science calls real?

Grainger Hunt

McArthur, Calif.

In "Rumors Of War" (Feb. 19), we said a third American aircraft carrier "will likely follow" two other carrier groups to the gulf. The Navy says the USS Nimitz is scheduled to replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the other carrier groups operating there. NEWSWEEK regrets the error.