Letters

Make My Daylights
I just finished reading Ellen McGarrahan's wonderful article "The Living Daylights" (April 24). I just wanted to tell you that in addition to being incredibly interesting, informative, and hopeful, it is one of the most stunningly well-written pieces of journalism I have ever come across.

Paul N. Edwards, Director
Information Technology & Society Project
Stanford University
Palo Alto

Fact and Phallusy
"Phallus in Blunderland" (April 17) overlooked an important psychological underpinning of penile surgery. A majority of American men have had a prior surgical reshaping of their penises -- without their consent.

An American male is told in the strongest possible terms (amputation of his foreskin, usually without anesthesia) that his natural penis is "wrong" and in need of surgical repair. The intact penis is said to be smelly, unwashable, carcinogenic, ugly, and prone to horrible infection. So each year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, physicians (usually trained in the care of female genitals) restrain 1.25 million infant boys and cut their penises -- removing healthy, erogenous, nerve-laden tissue.

We have not been told that over 80 percent of men around the world get to keep their foreskins, enjoy them, and suffer no horrible consequences. We have not been informed that medical circumcision was introduced to this country in the late 19th century as a cure for masturbatory insanity. We are largely unaware that the foreskin is an organ of pleasure. We are surprised to learn that neither the AMA nor the American Academy of Pediatrics endorses routine infant circumcision. We are correctly told that destroying female genital structures is a horror, that women have a right to self-determination regarding their bodies. But not us. It's not even an issue.

No wonder American men are mixed up enough about their penises to seek more "improving" surgeries.

Tom Morris
Castro

Undo the Wrong Thing
In "Phallus in Blunderland," Lisa Davis states: "Surgically undoing something is a lot more difficult than doing it, especially when you add in the psychological trauma of a patient who's coming to terms with having been mutilated for cosmetic reasons." Although speaking of penile augmentation surgery that some men freely choose, her statement is even more true for a routine penile reduction surgery that many men never chose for themselves. American males are still forcibly subjected as children to what we euphemistically call "circumcision," the mutilative custom of attempting to make boys' penises look alike. As adults, many circumcised men later learn that they've been conned by the "pros" of circumcision -- both social and medical -- and that, in Davis' words, "Mother Nature's version isn't so bad after all."

Recent anatomical research from Canada confirms what is conspicuously absent from most medical school anatomy books: that Mother Nature's version includes the foreskin as an important part of the male sexual response system. Perhaps this explains why increasing numbers of circumcised men, rather than trying to add length they never had, are successfully and without surgery regaining the natural genital integrity with which they were born in the first place.

Tim Hammond, founder
National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM)

San Francisco

Getting Out the Vote
Gordon Young's article "Now Entering -- the Willie District" (Dog Bites, April 17) only tells half the story. Besides district elections, many organizations and individuals are also considering preference voting, a form of proportional representation.

The Elections Task Force, which was established by Proposition L in 1994, had good reasons for recommending proportional representation. Demographics have changed a lot since the late 1970s when San Francisco last used district elections. The city's great diversity, including racial minorities, gays, lesbians, moderates, conservatives, progressives, and over 35 neighborhoods, is geographically dispersed, making it very difficult to draw any set of district lines that gives adequate representation to them all. Take, for example, Latinos, who, while they may have greater population density in the Mission District, have a significant number of voters in the southwestern portion of the city. The city's African-American population is spread out in Bayview-Hunters Point, Western Addition, and Ingleside, with smaller, yet significant, concentrations through other neighborhoods. Some are concerned that the 11-district plan may electorally "ghettoize" gay/lesbian voters into one district covering the Castro and part of the Haight, limiting voting power and representation to one district.

The other option, preference voting (proportional representation), allows blocs of like-minded voters, wherever they live, to win representation in proportion to their voting strength. Under the current system, a candidate typically needs a minimum of 90,000 votes to win. With preference voting a candidate will need only 30,000. A candidate can win 30,000 votes in one section of the city if he/she wants (just like district elections) or from different parts of the city. Neighborhoods can win seats with preference voting. In Cambridge, Mass., which uses preference voting, five of nine winning candidates for city council are identified with specific neighborhoods, at the same time that minorities win seats. Cambridge's gay, African-American mayor was elected by preference voting.

It's important that San Franciscans study both options being considered and decide for themselves which is better for San Francisco.

Tom Lacey
Electoral Reform Coalition
San Francisco

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