Roar of the Crowd

August 1976By Comments

Bringing Them All Back Home
As one with more than a casual interest in the refugee program in Southeast Texas,

I read “The Newest Americans” by Gene Lyons [TM, June 1976] with a great deal of anticipation. Mr. Lyons seems to have a particular empathy with the Vietnamese people in addition to all of the background research he did. The empathy and the hard work both show in his article. While the attitudes and goals of some of the Americans involved in the effort have changed, the Vietnamese remain steadfast in their goals.

I also enjoyed William Broyles’ comments in “Behind the Lines” in the same issue. He said much more eloquently the same things I wanted to say. It is the ordinary Vietnamese and Americans who will live with this problem long after politicians, faddists, and analysts have found something else to do.

I would like to clarify, however, one thing in Mr. Lyons’ article. We obviously did not give him enough information about the role of the American Red Cross. I personally found them to be a great help in the initial rush and confusion during the fall of South Viet Nam. They did a tremendous job of helping to locate lost relatives and friends. I saw them at Fort Chaffee working hard in the relief effort and locally they did everything I ever asked of them.

In twenty years we can all look back and see how we misguessed the Vietnamese this time.

Daniel Nisley, Executive Vice President
Goodwill Industries of Southeast Texas
Beaumont

 

I read with interest the article entitled “The Newest Americans.” The comments in the article regarding the participation of ENTEX in this program are quite misleading. If Mr. Lyons had investigated this matter more thoroughly with the diocesan office of the Beaumont diocese or with ENTEX, he would have found that ENTEX has in the past and is continuing to cooperate quite extensively in this program by offering grauitous services and the loan of equipment. We can find no evidence of any of our employees making the remarks attributed to them.

L A. Duffee, District Manager
ENTEX
Beaumont

[Editor’s Note: The account of ENTEX’s lack of cooperation in the matter of St. Anthony’s halfway house was based on first-hand reports by three independent sources.]

 

It’s Them or Us
Harry Hurt III has done it again! His article, “The World’s Most Despicable Bug” [TM, June 1976], will probably have most of your readers running to the local pharmacy to buy boric acid in order to wreak havoc on their local cockroach herd.

I am sure many readers will take issue with the 34 millimeter size figure. In fact, you will probably receive many specimens for entomological evaluation and certification as Periplaneta americana texanus enormicus, a new man-eating species seenby many college students in their apartmentsdoing an acrobatic act to open therefrigerator door.

Roy Nelson
Kingsville

 

Harry Hurt’s article on cockroaches reads like most lay-oriented accounts of these animals: it overextends their reputation. However, the real concern is not Hurt’s perpetuation of myths surrounding roaches, but rather his inaccurate reporting. For example, in several places one is led to believe that cockroaches regularly bite and on occasion attack humans. The documented evidence for these behavioral patterns is virtually nonexistent. Further, through several years of handling roaches at College Station, we have yet to be bitten, much less attacked, by any of the numerous roach specie we maintain in culture.

The medical importance of cockroaches in disease transmission is greatly exaggerated. Although roaches are known to carry several pathogens on their body parts, their actual role in transmitting or vectoring these same pathogens remains obscure in almost all reported cases. The point is, that carrying and transmitting disease-producing organisms are two entirely different phenomena. At present, roaches are generally regarded as only potentially capable of transmitting disease organisms.

The toxicity problem of boric acid should have been clarified. In technical terms, the acute oral LD50 (the lethal dosage necessary to kill 50 per cent of the test animals) of this material is 2660 mg/ Kg for rats. For diazinon and dursban, the acute oral LD50 values are 66- 600 and 97- 276, respectively. This means that boric acid is about five times safer than diazinon and at least ten times safer than dursban.

Other aspects of Hurt’s article, including comments on insecticidal resistance, cockroach varietal differences, and information concerning roach biology and ecology, are grossly incorrect and/or misleading. Hurt’s article serves only to sensationalize the already misconceived notions about roaches. His piece was obviously designed to dazzle readers: this objective could easily have been accomplished by merely presenting factual material about these animals.

Gordon Frankie, Associate Professor
Department of Entomology
Texas A&M University
College Station

 

Mr. Hurt replies:
There is ample scientific support for the claims made in my article. Most of the information was obtained from The BioticAssociations of Cockroaches by Drs. Louis M. Roth and Edwin R. Willis, a U.S. Army study that researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have described as a seminal work. In that book and in an earlier 1957 research paper, Roth and Willis provide ample documentation of the biting and attacking behavior and an extended discussion of the cockroach’s disease carrying and transmitting capabilities. I do not at any time say that roaches “regularly” bite or attack humans, but that they have been known to do so.

 

I found Harry Hurt’s cockroach article very provocative. Although I have enjoyed practically every aspect of life here in Texas since I moved here in 1973, I am still shocked and disgusted by the appearance of these creatures. Monthly spraying by commercial exterminators only reduces their numbers.

However, I am curious as to Mr. Hurt’s source concerning the alleged reverence of the Finns for cockroaches. In the 27 years I lived in Finland, I never saw one. The only mention I can recall of cockroaches was in zoology class in school. While I have no doubt that there are roaches in Finland, they are seldom if ever seen in a typical Finnish home, much less welcome there or in the sauna. Most Finns would be astounded by Mr. Hurt’s assertion of this “custom.”

Sirkka Helena Walker
Austin

 

In 1925, my wife and I were in the Soviet Union for three months of travel by train and boat. In Moscow, street vendors were crying “Get your Amerikanskis here.” They were selling tin replicas of our small brown roaches.

An American journalist friend who had lived in the peasant areas told us that the peasants took the cockroach as a sign of good luck. We deduced the origin of this belief to be in the roaches found in the food packages sent from the United States during the famine period of 1921. This was the Hoover relief program. In 1925, we called ourselves “Amerikanskis.” The cockroaches had come earlier as envoys of goodwill long before U.S. recognition of the Soviet Union in 1936.

Carl Brannin
Dallas

 

While living in Florida I learned to put bay leaves–the cooking spice–on shelves and elsewhere in the house to keep the roaches away. I use the same method in my home now and I haven’t seen a cockroach in years, nor do I employ commercial exterminators.

Emma Jeffries Boston
Middlesboro, Kentucky

 

I consumed each page of Harry Hurt’s article with delight, but concerning the origin of the song, “La Cucaracha,” I heard an altogether different story. A rough translation of one of my old college Spanish texts states: ” … it is necessary to clarify that the cockroach of the song is not an insect. In popular Mexican vernacular, they call an old automobile a cucaracha. In other parts of Latin America, it would be called a cacharro.It seems that

General Pancho Villa owned a rather crippled automobile, one of those Model Ts produced by the Ford Motor Company. The members of his army, more jokingly than seriously, composed a thousand anecdotes and jokes about the car. It wasn’t easy to drive one of those cars much less maintain it in good running condition. And if that was difficult in peacetime, it would have to be even harder during the extremely agitated years of the Revolution. One of the charming stories composed by those men, whose contact with the barbarousness of the war never suppressed their jovial dispositions, was that the General’s car didn’t use gasoline like other cars, but marijuana, and certainly it was very unlikely that the General’s car would be able to find marijuana, because in Villa’s army, the use of that drug was punished by death.” ( Bosquejos de México y Centroamérica, by Srs. Vocolo and Miyares.)

This version of the interpretation, and there must be others, is clearly a play on the word cucaracha. Cacharroliterally means “a coarse earthen pot,” but in slang refers to an old jalopy. To Villa’s men, his cacharrolooked like a hobbling cucaracha that ironically needed marijuana to run.

N. A.Farr
Denton

 

Sleepworking
John Deaton’s description of the pressures under which interns and residents on call find themselves made me wonder how the “health profession” can condone such unhealthy behavior [“Physician, Heal Thyself,” TM, June 1976]. Depriving a person of sleep is a well-known torture technique. Forcing physicians and medical students to work under pressure for 36 or more hours smacks of fraternity hazing. It is unhealthy not only for the doctors, but also for patients who might find their lives in the hands of a zombie. I understand the need for doctors to work long hours, but surely this deliberate and dangerous practice should be eliminated.

Mary Gleason
Austin

 

Never Again on Sunday
Richard West did not do his homework very well in “Rock Economics” [“Reporter,”

TM, June 1976] concerning The Sunday Break rock concert. As a longtime fan of rock concerts, I think the only thing worthwhile about this one was the weather. Mr. West states that the barrier and the terrain were the only complaints he heard.

Well, he sure didn’t ask anyone I know.

The group of people I went to the concert with universally agreed that for the first two hours you could not hear a thing. Whether it was the sound system or what, I don’t know–I’m not an expert–but I was halfway back and heard none of Gary Wright or the next two bands.

My friends and I all considered ourselves ripped-off for $10, and we all agree that The Sunday Break was our last outdoor concert.

Midge Haggard
Dallas

 

Drawing the Line
Griffin Smith, Jr.’s article “Where’s My Line” [TM, June 1976] relating to reapportionment is, in my opinion, one of the finest ever published in Texas Monthly. He thoroughly mastered a complicated topic and presented it in a fashion so that it could be understood by anyone. I intend to make his article mandatory reading in my Constitutional Law class.

David M. Guinn, Professor
Baylor University School of Law
Waco

 

By assailing the one man one vote principle, Mr. Smith attacked one of the chief rules of law which are at long last providing black and brown Texans with a chance to have a significant impact on Texas politics. I realize that originally the one man one vote principle was chiefly utilized to break up the rural domination of state politics, and that this battle is for the most part won. I also am sensitive to criticism that population should not be the sole consideration in the redistricting process. But Smith totally ignores the fact that the chief impact of one man one vote has, in recent years, been to secure adequate representation for minority citizens in government.

For example, my office has sponsored a series of redistricting suits against East Texas counties, attempting to increase the number of black elected officials in local government in this region. This “East Texas Project,” as we call it, led to the election of the first black county commissioner since Reconstruction in Texas, Elder Amos Henderson from Nacogdoches County. One of the key methods utilized by the East Texas, establishment to keep blacks from being elected involves creating enormous election precincts which completely dilute the impact of the vote of the black community.

Mr. Smith apparently would have his readership believe that one man one vote is only an issue for statisticians and demographers. And I believe that this sells this very significant principle of law short.

Paul B. Ragsdale
Texas House of Representatives
Dallas

 

 “Plan B,” approved by the Supreme Court and ultimately adopted by the district court (without prejudice to the adoption of a better plan by the Legislature ), was adopted because it most closely approximated the plan of the Legislature embodied in Senate Bill I . If the districts are now distorted by normal demographic dynamics, such distortions would have occurred even if the courts had not intervened. The Legislature has refused in two regular sessions to accept the court’s invitation to change the plan and thus cure any distortion. The Constitution sets no limit on the number of times a state may redistrict to meet the needs of population changes.

Smith’s sanguine view of the willingness of the political process to accommodate to constitutional mandate absent judicial oversight is perhaps the most debatable proposition of all. Even if one accepts Smith’s unsupported “social attitude” argument, it is ingenuous to believe that we have yet, even in this post-Watergate era, plumbed the depth of our legislators’ “prurient self-interest.”

Lawrence Fischman
Dallas

[Editor’s Note: Attorney Fischman represented plaintiff Dan Weiser in Texas’ noted 1973 one man one vote reapportionment case, White v. Weiser.]

Griffin Smith’s excellent article skirts a fundamental issue without quite addressing it squarely. Lumping half a million people into one section of the map and allowing them to pick one “representative” to serve their common interests in Congress may have been meaningful once upon a time, when most of the people in one community had essentially common interests. Today, however, the concept is meaningless.

I suggest instead that we consider doing away entirely with geographic representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. Why not raise the number of members to 500 and have them run “at large?”

No, now wait a minute! This does not mean that  every candidate would have to campaign coast-to-coast. It means that each candidate would have to find his own constituency: enough people who share a common interest, and who have confidence in his ability to represent that interest, to get him elected. The candidates with the 500 highest votes total would be seated, no matter where the voters happened to live. (This assumes, of course, that each voter could vote for only one representative.)

Maybe it does sound a bit strange at first, but think about some of the implications. For once, every voter would be able to regard at least one member of Congress as his very own representative; under the present system, after half the electorate has voted for someone, the other half is “unrepresented” until the next election.

Stuart M. DeLuca
Austin

 

The Pater of Little Feet
As a longtime feminist, I applaud David Ritz for creating his own father role [”Role Call,” TM, April 1976]. The richness of his feeling for his infant daughters and his courage to break from unsatisfying traditions make his article one I will save and share.

Jan Wrede
Brownsville

 

Critic Critique
On leaving the theater after having seen Gable and Lombard I, as well as many others I have spoken to since, found it to be an entertaining  motion picture. Though it was “so hopelessly fake that none of the characters resembles a real person,” change the names and it still would have been a terrific story. Has Marie Brenner no romance in her soul [“Meaner Street,” TM, April 1976)?

A critic’s review is just one person’s opinion. If I, as a moviegoer, must be judged to have a mind “only” slightly superior to the alleged ten-year-olds of televisionland” every time I disagree with a review by critics such as Ms. Brenner, then I will gladly pay the admission fee.

Pass the lollipops, please.

Cheryl L. DuPas
San Antonio

 

Ms. Brenner replies:
The folks out at Universal Studios wish the rest of the country agreed with you. Gable and Lombard has fared dismally at the box office, so far coming nowhere near the “break-even” point. I, like most of my colleagues, find little romance in the desecration of one of Hollywood’s most appealing couples, and I hope the American legal system will protect the ghosts (and heirs) of Hepburn and Tracy from this kind of “terrific story” some day.

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