Finding Beauty in a Washington Eyesore

The article on the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic, "Down With Those Ugly Concrete Barriers" (May 27), leaves the impression that all of Washington is vehemently opposed to the action, taken about two years ago. Well, this is one Washingtonian who doesn't have any problem with the closure.

It is true that the traffic situation in Washington has become worse since the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue, but it has always been bad. I would suggest that the traffic problem would be seriously improved if the D.C. government would enact and seriously enforce large penalties for gridlockers, who make a traffic nightmare even worse. Or better yet, maybe the high traffic might finally convince people of the wisdom of public transit!

I'll also grant you that the concrete barriers blocking vehicular traffic in front of the White House are ugly. But they are no more ugly than trucks, cars, and taxis that used to make their way down the street. And they are certainly no more ugly than what a bombed-out Pennsylvania Avenue might look like.

Christopher Gould


When Johnny can spell, he'll count

"Do Standards Push Yoshi to Whip Johnny in Math?" (May 21) theorizes as to why our students are behind those of other countries in various subjects. One of the main difficulties is seldom, if ever, mentioned - that of our burdensome spelling system.

It takes roughly six years of reading and spelling instruction to do what other countries do in six months. Our inconsistent, complicated system robs schools of many hours in which to keep up in math or other subjects. A child in Mexico, for example, learns to spell any word he hears and pronounce any word he sees before he is out of the first grade. President Clinton announced his ambitious plan to try to have children reading by the end of the third grade. And the fact is that nobody ever learns to spell or pronounce every word in English.

Those who are not especially apt at language learning find themselves failing at an early age, not only in language but in all subjects that depend on reading. Until we establish a recognized language academy to make sensible changes in spelling, we will continue to lag behind other nations in one educational department or another.

Ralph W. Emerson

Tacoma, Wash.

France's deeper challenge

The editorial on the French elections, "What's Left" (June 3), ignores the root of the problem facing French political leaders: The deep cultural resistance of the French (both left and right) to free-market policies.

While such policies are generally viewed in the United States as potentially universal and applicable to the whole world, they are often seen in France as peculiar to the culture of "Anglo-Saxon" (i.e., English-speaking) countries, with the US as an extreme example. They are considered (rightly or wrongly) ruthless and too individualistic for a truly civilized society that prizes social solidarity and national cohesiveness.

State intervention in France is not something that merely comes from leftism, as the editorial seems to imply; it is deeply ingrained in the national psyche, on both left and right, and it has to do with the role of the state in the formation and definition of the French nation. The problem is not to change policies, it is to change the culture.

Jean-Franois Brire

Albany, N.Y.

Stemming corruption worldwide

The author is to be commended on his article "In Too Many Countries, a Sinister Scourge of Corruption" (May 28). It is imperative that all the world's nations curb and ultimately correct this immoral imposition. The author's suggestion for the US to issue annual reports on how governments and their leaders rob the people (similar to the annual reports focusing on human rights violations) could be a helpful step forward.

Carol P. Elwell

Edmonds, Wash.

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