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Week of January 17, 2001

Ten Years After
I survived the nightmare in the 17th Ward: Imagine my surprise when I opened the Riverfront Times to find a picture of the burned-out shell of my home on Vista Avenue [D.J. Wilson, "The Homes Jack Destroyed," RFT, Dec. 27]. As a preschool teacher, my husband and I could not afford the high premiums insurance companies demanded for our neighborhood. Our home was a total loss. We had to donate the property to the city. We had no money to repair the extensive damage caused by the fire. Several witnesses told me some of Jack Krause's tenants were responsible for the arson, yet they are fearful to testify in court.

Your article, while appreciated, was 10 years too late. For a decade, we have fought the invasions of drug dealers, child abusers, thieves, vandals and gangs. Kim [Jayne] and Tom [Blackwell] have fought longer and harder than we could. I pray for their success. When Mrs. [Gloria] Panchot leaves, the destruction of Vista will be complete. She worked endlessly to save her home and those of her neighbors.

Jack Krause's insidious destruction of our neighborhood could not have happened without some help of those we elected to serve us. I naïvely believed they would work with us to save the neighborhood. Initially, Ald. [Joe] Roddy denied knowing Jack Krause when my husband first contacted him about our mounting problems with Jack. He gave us a couple of numbers to call, but that was the extent of his help. I have attended countless planning and security meetings. I spoke with law-enforcement officers, and I've been to court on these matters. Not one person felt Roddy would help us. When a drug dealer threatened my husband with a gun, we realized we could not stay.

I have no more tears to cry. I feel bitter about the whole experience. If this had happened in Ald. Roddy's neighborhood, he would not have tolerated it.

My husband and I moved to Maplewood. The contrast has been startling. Our councilman is a frequent visitor to our home. His progressive vision for Maplewood will benefit business without sacrificing the well-being of the families who make their homes there.

So, I guess I'm lucky. I survived the nightmare in the 17th Ward. May heaven help those who remain.
Linda Cope

Enemy Alert
"Weird"-less, yet oddly satisfied: Since you stopped publishing "News of the Weird," my biggest reason for reading the Riverfront Times is to keep abreast of what the enemy is up to. However, I think Bruce Rushton's article "The Buck Stops Here" [RFT, Dec. 27] was one of the most balanced, informative and worthwhile things I've ever seen in your paper. Completely unexpected! Many thanks.
Leo Radovich
via the Internet

Culture Shock
Your reviewer obviously doesn't know Nigerian cuisine: I was very angered when I read the review of Fatima's [Melissa Martin, "Market Research," RFT, Jan. 3]. After seeing the writer's name, I automatically realized that someone out of pure ignorance wrote this poor article.

How dare she write about something that she knows nothing about? She tries to discredit the restaurant by describing the surroundings as a "wretched place to have a meal." She has to consider the fact that the St. Louis Bread Co. used to, and other restaurants still do, exist at this location. The place looked like that before this restaurant opened there and will probably look like that for years to come. It seems to me that she wrote this article as if she were doing a research project, but she did very poor research. I am from Nigeria and can appreciate the quality of good Nigerian cuisine when I taste it, and Fatima's is definitely excellent Nigerian food. As future advice for the writer, she shouldn't write an article on the food of a culture she knows nothing about.
Nikki A.
St. Louis

God's A.G.
As Missouri attorney general, Ashcroft encouraged church involvement in politics: To ask former U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft to be the top law officer in the United States is to invite the fox to guard the henhouse.

Mr. Ashcroft is a zealot who would use the powers of government to advance a sectarian agenda. Those whom he cannot convert, he would subvert. Our nation should prepare itself for ecclesiastical McCarthyism.

We protect religion (as well as minority opinion) in this country through separation of church and state, a concept which both Ashcroft and President-elect Bush abhor. Missouri's Constitution contains strong language upholding this concept, yet Mr. Ashcroft, first when he was Missouri's attorney general and later when he was governor, fostered a coalition of fundamentalist Christian churches, Catholic churches, Mormon churches and Lutheran (Missouri Synod) churches in support of specific political candidates, especially for local school boards.

Such illegal political activity continues to this day, in direct violation of the tax-exempt status of these institutions. That they have succeeded in this endeavor is testimony to their political and economic clout, for, while they control the Republican party in Missouri, they also support some Democrats. Anyone who disagrees with their leaders is branded not only wrong but immoral. For fundamentalist Christians like Mr. Ashcroft to do otherwise is to disobey God. In their eyes, the end justifies the means.

Whatever else he may be, Mr. Ashcroft is not the "strict constructionist" he would have us believe. In his quest for political power, he may embrace this language for its political appeal, but he clearly is willing to overlook the law when it conflicts with his narrow religious beliefs.
Donald D. Meyer
Labadie, Mo.

At least Ashcroft wouldn't have torched the Branch Davidians: Please let me introduce this screed by saying you are to be respected for what you attempt to do each week with the paper and also by saying you suck completely (more specifically, where the "Calendar" feature begins each issue and thereafter, more specifically still, where the gay-bi-curious ads start and then, infinitely more specifically -- sucking, that is -- with the Dan Savage commentary).

I am continually amused when Ray Hartmann sniffs at the wind to determine and expound upon what left-leaning constituents perceive as threatening rather than listening to his inner pinko to guide him. An excellent source of such amusement was fortuitously provided in "Justice for John Ashcroft?" [RFT, Dec. 27]. The fatuous premise was that Ashcroft should get his comeuppance in confirmation hearings based on his "special heartlessness for African-Americans." Ray is not obviously black -- perhaps spiritually so -- but I digress. Ray really has not had it in for Ashcroft over the years based on Ashcroft's racism, per se. I mean, there were no RFT cover stories on "John Ashcroft as Grand Wizard."

Rather, what there was, and is today, are numerous stories, blurbs and asides portraying Ashcroft as Torquemada. Ray's real problem is that Ashcroft is out-and-out unfailing in his religious beliefs to the extent that as governor, Ashcroft would not (could not?) dance. He probably would not (could not) jump either, but Ray never expounded thusly. See, that is Ray's essential hangup: it's the religion. A textual analysis of Ray's commentary supports the thesis explicitly; his mixed adverbial descriptions of Ashcroft's conduct are most apt as criticism of religiosity -- "zealously" and "piously," sayeth the Ray. By the leitmotif of the Golden Rule, Ray assails Ashcroft in a clever paradox whereby the religious zealot is shown to be a hypocrite. And finally, Ray exposes Ashcroft/Christian Coalition litmus tests, which are, one assumes, proxies for the institution of a church-state. That is to say, Ray asserts that abortion restriction and death-penalty expansion are at the heart of right-wing extremism (despite the accepted fact that a majority of Americans polled support such matters as an expression of policy).

Religious persons of any racial extraction have misgivings about abortion on demand, the exception being the type of "religion" foisted upon RFT reader -- a paltry admixture of ethicalist-minimalist-humanist-modernist-"I'm-OK-you're-OK" drivel. Janet Reno is the exact religious paradigm with which Ray can comfortably cope. She was not a religious person but, rather, a spiritual one. Very New Age, very serious, very "I-won't-interfere-with-you-because-of-what-God-said." If Reno is an adequate religious presence and Ashcroft is a dangerous religious presence, that should have been Ray's edge against the nomination. Seems perfectly persuasive but for the fact that Reno was in Baltimore on the day the order went forth in Waco to expurgate the religious beliefs of a small nonmainline Christian sect and, in the process, immolate certain captive children.

Say what one will about Torquemada, none of his victims were killed on videotape. So, dear readers, has Ray been the one to cast the first stone? Or has he been content to hide behind the vocal minority opinion about Ashcroft? Let Ray say what he really thinks, and let the truth prevail.
Brian T. McCarthy
St. Louis

Please, be kind: I hope you will be fair in your criticism of John Ashcroft. He is obviously a man of principle and integrity. He is being charged and defamed with accusations that are not fair nor true. Surely you are above such smear tactics. Our media has overlooked shameful and illegal behavior by our president but is lying and exaggerating about a man of integrity. Please consider carefully what is being put out by your reporters and your "fact" finders.
Jeanne Gruender
via the Internet

Raising the Bar
We deserve better mayoral candidates: It is disappointing, following a national election where the bar of public expectation for elected leaders was dragged to a new low, that locally we may be faced with similar options to lead us into the new millennium [D.J. Wilson, "The New Wisdom of Boz," RFT, Jan. 3].

Only three serious mayoral candidates, including incumbent Clarence Harmon, have stepped up to run. Former Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. is running on the "Forgive me for being a bad mayor" platform. As any present or former resident of Washington, D.C., will attest, this is a poor foundation upon which to bring together a city often divided by economics and race. Board of Aldermen President Francis Slay seems to be running on the divisive "I can't be as bad as the last two mayors" platform, promoting narrow downtown real-estate development interests, harming any potential future relations outside his South St. Louis base.

Neither will serve our need to create accessible economic opportunities and bring together a city often divided by economics and race. Both challengers, like President-elect Bush, are running on weak platforms and vague promises based on assumptions that we are currently failing. Such negative political prophecies significantly hinder running effective government once elected.

St. Louis is a great city, with a great past tradition of urban leadership. The next few years may bring questionable economic times and greater urban challenges. Therefore our expectations for local leadership should be higher. We must find candidates for local office willing to meet that standard and raise the bar for those currently running.
Joseph Byrne
St. Louis

Love It or Leave It
Been all over, and St. Louis is the tops: I have lived in Maine and Florida, California and Connecticut, New York, LA and San Francisco, but I call St. Louis my home. Of all the places I have lived, St. Louis has the best combination of eclectic culture, active economy, cheap rent, museums, galleries, restaurants, clubs -- you name it. St. Louis is a big city with a small-town attitude, and I happen to love it here.

The comments D.J. Wilson made in his column were short-sighted and naïve ["Shut Yer Piehole, St. Louis: We Got It Good," RFT, Jan. 10]. Obviously Wilson has never tried to drive through LA at rush hour, get a restaurant reservation in midtown Manhattan or find an apartment that you can afford if you make under $150,000 in San Francisco. Does this guy realize that most other major cities cost about twice as much to live in (and only pay, on the average, one-third more)? If this guy is so fed up with St. Louis, why doesn't he leave -- see the real world (pay $2,000 for a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica).
Scott Fanetti
St. Louis

D.J.Wilson must lead a miserable life: Your article concerning the new RCGA campaign makes me wonder why you haven't packed up and left St. Louis yourself. The article is a fine retooling of the drudgery and pessimism that make one-half of this city so tedious.

We all know the drawbacks of St. Louis -- the urban sprawl, the ridiculous weather and that infernal new Cardinals stadium project, to name a few -- but if you have an adventurous spirit and a little enthusiasm (and a car), you will find a lot of great things happening in St. Louis that you won't see if you're too busy bitching about how St. Louis sucks.

People who constantly gripe about St. Louis lead miserable lives here. And I don't blame them. It must suck to have to bitch all the time. On the other hand, there are people who have a great time in St. Louis because they are able to appreciate things like intimate and tucked-away music clubs, Monday-night pingpong leagues (and beer) at the Way Out Club, the Webster film series (especially the ones at Beatnik Bob's!), the Ozarks, the free art museum and zoo, the Courtesy Diner, free concerts at the botanical garden, South Broadway Athletic Club rasslin', beautiful architecture and, yes, the good sports teams (got your boxers in a bunch because we didn't even make it to the Super Bowl?). And, to top it all off, really cheap rent in great neighborhoods.

Don't get me wrong; there are better places to live. But panning the RCGA (and St. Louis) for taking a questionable initial approach is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I dare say. Lighten up and have some fun between articles!
Marc Syp
St. Louis

D.J. is probably a smug little nihilist: Well, I almost didn't write this letter. I couldn't decide whether D.J. Wilson's little tirade was genuine or just the same warmed-up pablum columnists use to try to stir up their readers when they can't think of a real topic to write about. (D.J., maybe next time you can write about whether men are better than women!)

I have to admit, I get real tired of these smug little nihilists who try to prove their superiority by saying, "Everything sucks, and if you believe otherwise, you are sooo stooopid." What's your point? We aren't bordering an ocean or a mountain range, so this place sucks? Wow, you are amazing -- what a breathtakingly simplistic point of view. Why didn't you just say all that up front, sign off and save us all some time?

I guess I'm supposed to despise St. Louis for its affordable housing, world-class symphony and botanical garden, its great city museum, science center, zoo and art museum, and the great sports teams, which can be watched in classy, state-of-the-art venues. I guess I'm supposed to sob because we don't get every A-list concert (even though I get to see the bands that do come here at a great outdoor amphitheater). And I guess I'm an idiot for not wanting to move to California, the land of earthquakes, riots, mudslides, wildfires, traffic gridlock and the nation's highest utility bills. Oh well, maybe I'll go drown my sorrows in any one of our great offbeat "loser" bars like Blueberry Hill or get something to eat at that little "loser" four-star restaurant, Tony's, before I go see a concert at our newest "loser" venue, the Pageant.

Yes, D.J., oceans are beautiful and fun, and mountains are beautiful and fun. And you're right -- that's why lots and lots of people move there. But guess what? There are things called airplanes and trains and cars, and you can visit those places. (It's true! I've done it!) And then I've come back to a place where you have lots of big-city amenities with a lot of small-town convenience.

And God forbid we stay in an area where we have family and friends (which I'm sorry you can't relate to) and where people are genuinely friendly. But I suppose you're right; almost no one in Brooklyn or Queens is there because they were born there and have family and friends there. That is absolutely a Midwestern failing.

I hate "homers" and "boosters" almost as much as you, but your criticisms seem more like knee-jerk negativism. Maybe you can drop us unwashed masses a line when you find paradise. Somehow I don't think you're going to get there. Somehow I don't think you're the kind of person whose apartment is filled with skis, backpacks and scuba gear, ready to hit the world in search of the next great adventure. I think you're one of those smarmy naysayers who, even if you did live next to an ocean or the mountains, would be sitting in front of his PC going, "Man, this place is so lame!" Because when it's all said and done, every place has its downside; the real adventure is to go out and find all the worthwhile stuff and to do it without boring everybody with your constant whining about how there's nothing to do.
Chuck Schneider

I think he's an asshole: I just finished reading D.J. Wilson's latest rampage. My response to him is simple and straight to the point: Go live someplace else, you asshole.

I've lived in several cities in my lifetime and have landed in St. Louis because we do have it good here -- easy parking, fast commutes, reasonable housing and friendly people (with the exception of Mr. Wilson, of course). I never could figure out why someone would stay here if they think it sucks so badly -- limited career opportunities elsewhere?
Kelley Bryan
St. Louis

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