Paul N. Edwards, Director
Information Technology & Society Project
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.
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)
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.
Electoral Reform Coalition
Free the Main
In 1994, voters passed Proposition E to fund more books and longer hours throughout the library system. Before implementing the voters' mandate, the San Francisco Public Library commissioned a survey that showed that two-thirds of the respondents need the library open until at least 9 p.m. And, they said, weekend hours were just as important as late evening hours. Steve Coulter may be bluffing your reporter ("Whose Library Is It?" Bay View, April 17) when he says, "If the library users say they want longer evening hours, that's what they'll get."
What library users now have is a Main Library open until 8 p.m. three evenings a week. Those short hours seem to have been established so that legitimate library use would not interfere with the Library Foundation's partying. The taxpayers have been swindled. No voter in this town agreed to spend $104.5 million to build a palatial party site. Whenever the library building is open, it must be open to readers.
With the passage of Prop. E, the SFPL became one of the most generously funded libraries in the country. We do not need any supplemental funding -- from the supervisors, from the foundation, or from corporate San Francisco. What we do need is a city librarian who is not a wastrel and a Library Commission president who is not deaf, dumb, and blind to the public's needs and the public interest.
The April 24 Portfolio misidentified the photographer. He is Justin Sullivan.