Discussing cussing Regarding "Free speech vs. verbal pollution" (Feb. 3): Timothy Boomer's canoe toppled him into the water, and he came up cursing in front of women and children. That was a bad idea.

Now, under the provisions of a century-old Michigan ordinance, the law wants to fine him or put him in jail. That's a worse idea.

I think a man who has suddenly been dumped into a river is entitled to a moment of bluster; ideally, I suppose, he would come up saying "Oh, rats!" and then join with passersby in laughing at himself. Ideal results are infrequent.

Finally, swearing is not, in fact, like secondhand smoke, except that it may annoy those who are exposed to it. There is medical evidence that secondhand smoke is a health hazard, and thus open to legal restrictions. There is no evidence beyond our personal beliefs that second-hand cursing is a hazard of any kind. Phil Sheehan, Schenectady, N.Y.

When I taught high school for many years, I never allowed obscenity or swearing in my classes; I handled it with discipline and mostly good humor, reminding kids of their bad habits. It always worked. I got much support from everyone. It stopped potential physical fights - none ever occurred in my classes because most fights are caused by demeaning words.

Davis, Calif., was one of the first cities to ban smoking in all public buildings - restaurants, offices, virtually all places except private homes. Smokers must be 20 feet outside of all buildings.

For a year Davis was ridiculed by the tobacco people and other cities. But we feel that we helped to start a nationwide onslaught on this evil because other cities have joined us.

Hopefully your article may be the catalyst for a new nationwide purge of "Oh #&%?!!!"

Henry Rutledge, Davis, Calif.

Your article, "Signs of swearing off swearing" (Feb. 9) overlooks a rather disturbing point. Last year, the screenplay for the motion picture "Good Will Hunting" featured 138 utterings of a certain four-letter word. The film's screenplay did not receive criticism for its scatological language - instead, it received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Phil Hall, New York, N.Y.

Social promotion can cause failure

Regarding "California's big test: holding students back" (Feb. 5): Your article points out the difference between viewing schools as places of learning or merely as day care.

Schools are not just places to park one's child while at work all day.

Staying back a grade is not necessarily failure, it is often the best choice. If children continue to be socially promoted, they may indeed face true failure.

Victoria Pann, Des Moines, Wash.

Defining 'livability' Regarding your editorial "Livability" (Feb. 5): It is only a "national issue" because a small group of activists wish it to be. Ask the rest of America. The answer will be no.

The reality is, farmland all over the US is turning to wilderness because we have excess farmland.

Let's let each American define livability with his own feet and his own checkbook. Right now, Americans prefer suburbia. In spite of tax breaks for inner-city housing, people leave the cities.

State and federal government is supposed to "promote the general welfare," not mandate it.

John Harling, Kingwood, Texas

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