I’ve read that back in the fourteenth century bands of rogues would join forces, elect a leader, and pillage the land. Things sure haven’t changed much.

Frances Fox Piven’s “Get a Job: Why Welfare Reform Is an Attack on All Women” [September 1996] really saddened my heart, which is not easy to do: I am an ex-prizefighter, ex-heroin-addict, and ex-bank-robber, and am currently serving time for attempted murder. Piven’s article gave me quite a lesson in economics, politics, and history. There’s nothing wrong with America in terms of its soil, its vegetation, its wildlife, and its common folks. But we have allowed all forms of skulduggery and chicanery in our government. We no longer have public servants but an assortment of war mongers, misers, petty thieves, and liars who call themselves politicians. Our mothers could run this country better with twenty dollars than these egomaniacs can with twenty trillion.

Charles Sampson
Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

I applaud you for publishing Frances Fox Piven’s “Get a Job.” She outlines problems that need to be addressed by all who are concerned with the rights of women and children — and men — in our society.

It is time, as Piven eloquently points out, for women’s work as nurturers and heads of family to be recognized by the powers that be. In many advanced countries, women are not stigmatized if they decide to become homemakers, and families are given more resources to help them do what’s best for their children. Delegating government responsibility to the states cannot work if the states represent primarily business interests and not those of children and families.

On another note, I was surprised by Anne Martin’s comments in the August Correspondence. I find Sy Safransky’s contributions refreshing and not at all “depressive.” “Self-absorption,” as Martin calls it, is the province of any artist, and often entails delving into deeply personal issues.

Mary Bronstein Cantoral
Warrenville, Illinois

Ever since I was seven, I’ve noticed that a lot of men play with themselves in public. Just the other day, I was talking with another teacher, and as we spoke he was playing with his dick — right there in the staff lounge! Then the August issue arrived, and on the inside back cover was a photograph of a guy playing with himself. I didn’t get it when I was seven, and I still don’t get it when I’m forty-six. What’s going on with you guys and your dicks?

The photograph mentioned above is available as a PDF only. Click here to download.

Cate Miller
Hawthorne, Florida

Thanks for Sy Safransky’s warm tribute to Stephen T. Butterfield [“Glorious Failure,” July 1996], whom I knew for several years as Dr. Butterfield, my college English professor.

As a teacher, he seemed dry at first, but his magnetic presence quickly became apparent. Each class, he would float into the room, settle his six-foot-four frame into his chair, assume a Buddha-like half smile, and wait. If no one chose to break the ice, he’d casually set things in motion with “So, what’d you think of Byron?”

His ability to recite whole poems was staggering. One hand dancing like a conductor’s baton, he’d lean back and in a low voice chant Shelley, Wordsworth, Ginsberg, Yeats — especially Yeats, his favorite. His lungs would struggle to keep pace with his passion; a long poem could drain him. Some days, he’d call in sick.

One of the last times I saw Dr. Butterfield was upon returning from a semester in London. I’d brought him a stone from Green-Head Ghyll, a brook described in a Wordsworth poem. I had once written a paper on that poem, and my efforts had led him to comment that I’d made the right choice of majors. I’ll never forget that support.

A year later, as I left Dr. Butterfield’s wake, I picked up a card that read, “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form.” I remain unable to decipher the paradox, but that night it left me feeling both heavy and light as I drove home under a perfect half-moon.

Jeff Euber
Essex Junction, Vermont

Correction

In our September Readers Write on “Taking Sides,” it should have been noted that the late Jim Nusbaum’s story was actually told to his brother, Richard McNally, who wrote it in Jim’s memory.


— Ed.