Kudos to Bill Nemitz on his column March 31 about the furor over a racially derogatory e-mail sent by Casco Selectwoman Barbara York, and his expose of the local political dispute that may lie behind it.

He has once again offered a thoughtful analysis of how language has been twisted to add heat to a political fight about fuel assistance programs in Casco.

This local fight is a reflection of a dangerous time in our nation when many politicians, ordinary citizens and members of the media seem all too ready to turn disagreements about public policy into polarized battles using hateful and hurtful language that heats, but does not illuminate.

Nemitz quotes Steve Wessler, who runs an anti-discrimination organization, that people can express a racist thought, but that thought alone “does not define who they are.”

To label such people “racist” for one remark is an injustice, and it may have been done deliberately to damage Barbara York.

She deserves an opportunity to apologize, and we must not be quick to judge her incompetent to serve on the board of selectmen, or to play a role in the local fuel assistance program, based on one e-mail.

Similarly, people who disagree with President Obama and the Democrats over the new health care reform law should be called out for hurling words like “Nazi socialism” and “totalitarianism.”

Such language led to hurling bricks through congressional office windows, and does not help us understand what may be good and what may need fixing as efforts to improve the health insurance system move forward.

And members of the media would do well to spend more time illuminating the disputed issues in the new health care legislation, deficits, a new jobs bill, immigration reform, etc., and less time showing protest signs that label the president as a “Nazi,” and, perhaps, implying that the sign-waver is a “Nazi” as well.

The media are both manipulated and manipulating by using these images.

And civil discourse and our democratic process are not well-served.

Richard Barnes

Kennebunkport

 

 

The two stories you have printed about the so-called “monkey e-mail” leave out the most important and perhaps the only important fact, which is that Barbara York did not send or give the demeaning e-mail to Mary-Vienessa Fernandes.

She forwarded it last July to someone who, long after, printed it and then left it or gave it to Ms. Fernandes (as Bill Nemitz pointed out in his March 31 column).

That is the person who should be vilified for his/her cruelty in using Ms. Fernandes to stir up passions against town officials.

I was at the meeting, by the way, and saw it all. It was a planned hit. Barbara York did apologize, right there, even though she did not give the e-mail to Ms. Fernandes.

Caricatures are nasty and you often print extremely nasty ones; recently you had one that made President Obama look pretty knuckle-dragging. Should I be offended that the paper was delivered to my door?

How about the tasteless caricatures you and others have printed of Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush, etc.?

No, this particular e-mail was given to Ms. Fernandes with the express purpose of causing trouble. Why don’t you investigate that?

Alice Darlington

Casco

 

The front page of the March 27 Press Herald, with a story titled “Racism on the rise?” is very troubling to me and to the majority of Mainers who work toward and hope for a world where social justice is alive and well.

The article discusses the public’s reaction to a racist e-mail “joke” insinuating that first lady Michelle Obama descends from monkeys and which was sent by a Casco selectwoman. According to the article, both a radio talk show (WGAN) and the Press Herald have received scores of responses from people who defended the e-mail joke as “funny” and not racist.

Conservative radio talk-show host Mike Violette is quoted as saying how disappointed he was and how he hung up on five callers who made racist or rude comments. I, too, am disappointed and, for the first time in my 21 years of living here, ashamed to know that racism is on the rise in Maine. Violette says that maybe “we aren’t there yet.” I totally agree.

The bigger issue for me is that if racism is still alive and well in Maine, then so is sexism, homophobism, elitism and all the other “isms” that keep people from being respected and treated equally and with dignity.

I wonder if President Obama saw article as he visited Maine. How embarrassing for us all if he did.

Susan Arledge

Portland

 

Porpoises helped by swimmers and UNE physical therapists

 

I read with great interest Beth Quimby’s front page story on March 26, “UNE swim team assists with rehab.” I commend your attention to this very important work in the University of New England’s Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center. I wish to add another “behind the scenes” piece to this story.

There are physical therapists who specialize in the treatment of animals, although the applications to date are typically with horses and dogs. When Keith Matassa, UNE’s marine animal rehabilitation coordinator, recognized the potential application to the rehabilitation of the porpoises, he contacted the university’s Department of Physical Therapy.

Several students from the university’s doctor of physical therapy program responded by volunteering their time and expertise and by applying some of the interventions they have learned in human patient care to the rehabilitation of the porpoises.

Specifically, they used a combination of exercise, manual stretching, and some modalities to address the contracted musculature of the porpoises.

They also trained students from other programs and those on the swim team at UNE to assist with the exercise and stretching program.

This was a tremendous collaborative effort from all involved and a great learning experience for the students. Thanks again for recognizing this important teamwork.

Michael Sheldon

Associate professor and program director, Department of Physical Therapy

University of New England

Portland