Inmates battle the blazes in California

Your Aug. 7 article, "Already, fires hitting record highs," looked at the diverse nature of fire crews, but failed to mention that in California, prisoners from "fire crew camps" around the state make up the majority of the hand crews.

At the Plaskett 2 fire in Los Padres National Forest, 290 of the 1,000 people battling the blaze were inmates. They are the ones who climb up and down steep embankments to clear vegetation with chainsaws, axes, hoes, and shovels for fire-control lines. These inmates are nonviolent criminals who earn a buck an hour from the time they are called out to the time they go back to camp. Many of them have never been out in nature, and the experience is eye-opening for them.

"I've never seen beautiful things like this," 23-year-old Michael Brown told me for a story for the San Luis Obispo Tribune. "It feels good. I can't wait to share it with my wife."

Leila Wombacher Knox San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Another view on editorial cartoon

It seems that the Aug. 8 letter writer, Eric H. Roth, has misinterpreted Clay Bennett's Aug. 3 cartoon. I took it to mean something entirely different than the understandably offensive interpretation by Mr. Roth.

The dynamite stick seemed to represent the actual small number of Jewish individuals in Israel that favor an extremist political agenda. These individuals have as their primary goal the expulsion of all Arabs from Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem which is overwhelmingly Arab.

Because of the structure of Israel's coalition government, this small group of religious extremists has political power disproportionate to its size.

They do, in essence, have the ability to undermine the attempts at peace of the Israeli government and nation.

Mr. Bennett, I am sure, did not intend for all Jewish Israelis to be represented by the dynamite stick. The menorah, indeed, held but one stick of dynamite with the rest being candles. I appreciate Bennett's point, think it important, and hope for continued attempts by both groups to form a lasting peace, despite the opposition of extremists on both sides.

Wayne P. Day-Laporte Beverly, Mass.

Let's end US lock step on Israel

Thank you for printing the objective opinion piece, "Doing the lock step on Israel," by Henry Precht. I found President Clinton's suggestion of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem personally embarrassing. He made a unilateral and unwarranted threat against the Palestinians.

However, speaking up on behalf of fairness for the Palestinians may subject me to being labeled an anti-Semite. For that reason I would like to go on record as saying that no group has suffered on such a scale as the Jews in Europe during the Holocaust.

Let us get back to conducting an objective foreign policy in the Middle East, which would require campaign finance reform, an end to aid to all participants in the Arab-Israel conflict, and a review of the history of Palestine since the end of World War II.

Andrew LeCompte Portsmouth, N.H.

Can Bush speak other languages, too?

Regarding your Aug. 4 opinion piece, "Bush's espaol: Un poco goes far": Bush spoke espaol to the Latino voters in Texas in order to get their votes. Should he parlare italiano to the Italian immigrants in Chicago and New York, and shuo zhongguo hua to the Chinese in San Francisco? He should treat all minorities equally. Language unites people, but languages divide.

Constantine Tung Buffalo, N.Y.

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