How California helped the Pacific Northwest

As a displaced Washingtonian married to a displaced Oregonian, I would like to comment on an overlooked fact related to your Dec. 22 article about the rift between Californians and natives of the Pacific Northwest ("Two cultures, one power grid").

At the time my wife and I graduated from college, there were few jobs to be had in Oregon and Washington. Hence, many of our college friends ended up in California. At both my wife's and my 50th high school reunions (Oregon and Washington), a review of the alumni lists revealed that approximately 50 percent of the graduates have an out-of-state address, and most of those are in California.

From my viewpoint, California has helped to solve many of Oregon's and Washington's problems by providing jobs and homes for former natives.

Keith M. Baker Los Gatos, Calif.

Teaching is no cushy job

As a public-school teacher for 33 years, I sincerely resent the tone of some letter responses to your Dec. 4 editorial "Merit pay for teachers" ("Teacher's salaries: What's fair?" Readers Write Dec. 26; "Double the salary of all teachers," Readers Write Dec. 11). Unfortunately, more than 50 percent of the positions in many schools are staffed by friends and relatives of local politicians. "Merit" often becomes who you know, play golf with, and so on.

As to the myths of excessive benefits, I know many recent college graduates who are starting first jobs at only $5,000 less than I make after earning a master's degree and 33 years of experience. In addition, I have never had dental coverage or three months off. And, because of the noncompetitive nature of salaries, most teachers I know spend "vacations" working at part-time jobs or doing home-repair projects they can't afford to hire others to do.

The armchair experts have little idea what they're talking about. I strongly suggest that before offering such acerbic criticism of teachers they follow the native-American adage, "First, walk a mile in my moccasins!"

Robert Miles Easton, Mass.

Kids should learn the poetry of math

I am a professional mathematician. I am also a poet and a musician. I am tired of reading articles like Todd Nelson's Dec. 28 Home Forum essay, "The higher math to me was poetry."

The fact is, and almost any mathematician would agree, the poetry Mr. Nelson detects in the phrase "the golden mean" is much more central to the spirit of mathematics than are the soulless equations which he imagines to epitomize the subject.

Mathematics, as a way of analyzing problems, has great power and beauty. Like all types of knowledge, it also has limitations.

It is shallow to reject mathematics for what it cannot do without ever exploring what - the author might be surprised to know - is a very wide range of things it can do.

It is unfortunate that so many people in our culture are traumatized by their early mathematics education and never get a chance to see what mathematicians value in their field of study.

Tony Horowitz Sarasota, Fla.

Reminders of how big our world is

Recently, I've become aware of how much I enjoy your sidebars. The front page rails are great reminders of how huge our world is, and how easily we can learn from others about the thrills and the challenges of life around the world.

On the back page, I never skip the "Etc..." column; ditto for the World sidebar.

Mary P. Melvin Oxford, Ohio

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