Gov. Ryan's stance on capital punishment

Regarding your Jan. 13 editorial "Gov. Ryan's bold half leap": First, those who do not live in Illinois may not know that Mr. Ryan is under a federal investigation for corrupt activities while he was Illinois secretary of state. Five of his staff have already received prison sentences.

Just prior to his leaving office he appointed loyal staff to high-paying state positions where they cannot be removed. His grandstand play with prisoners on death row was to detract attention from his scandalous reputation.

Second, in this discourse about the death sentence, why hasn't anyone mentioned Texas, which executes far more prisoners than any other state? President Bush did nothing to change this practice while he was governor.
Clayton W. Brown
Kildeer, Ill.

In response to "Gov. Ryan's bold half leap": Illinois Governor Ryan's bold moves on the death penalty are being made by others throughout the US. For example, on June 26, 2002, the New York City Council voted 39 to 12 in favor of Resolution 12A, calling for a moratorium on executions in New York and in the country. Many US city councils have passed moratorium calls, though none so morally suasive as the vote in post-Sep. 11 New York City.

People may say that Mr. Ryan's move and the moratorium calls of US city councils have no legislative power in the matter of the death penalty, but this is not the case. The Supreme Court in 1976 reinstated the death penalty by holding that a properly written statute could guide discretion in death penalty decisions. It noted at that time that execution did not offend "evolving standards of decency which mark the progress of a maturing society." This phrase holds open the idea that such standards can, in fact, evolve.

The votes of US city councils and the actions of our governors indicate that societal standards are indeed changing, as does the recent Supreme Court decision prohibiting execution of the mentally retarded and its willingness to reconsider the constitutionality of the execution of juveniles.

Perhaps pressure from global allies who have abolished state-sanctioned murder will help the United States to concentrate its political will to abolish what many consider the ultimate form of torture.
Nancy M. Hoffman
New York
Coordinator, N.Y. State Death Penalty Abolition

Regarding "Gov. Ryan's bold half leap": Murder is wrong whether it's done by a single human being or a government. Eliminating capital punishment is the first step toward a society that values life, even the life of a killer.
Irwin Rosenthal
Ellenville, N.Y.

From 'Joachimsthaler to 'dollar'

Regarding your Jan. 9 article "Another day, another dollar": Perhaps your readers might also like to know where the word "dollar" comes from.

In a narrow valley in eastern Germany is the little town of Joachimsthal. A long time ago, many valuable minerals were mined in this remote town, including silver. In 1517, the first Joachimsthaler was minted. Later, this silver coin was simply called Thaler, and then Taler. In the low German dialect it became known as the Daler. This name became ever more popular, spreading into the US as the "dollar."

It's amazing how a few silver coins minted in a small town in a remote valley in Germany would give their name to the currency that became the best known and most powerful in the world.
Margret Hofmann
Austin, Texas

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