Re: "News of the Weird: Scenes of the Surreal," by Chuck Shepherd (Jan. 19-25)
Your article about brawling Santas conjures the laughable image of 30 Father Christmases ending up in the slammer for fighting. The town named Newtown (in Wales, not England) was my home for 33 years. Can I put the more praiseworthy side of "Santa Run" to your readers? OK: So 30 guys didn't behave. But that leaves 3,970 out of 4,000 entrants who showed huge good will. They run a strenuous route around town in mid-winter, pay for their Santa suits and are sponsored by friends. The cash raised funds small-bus transport for disabled and seniors. The event is above all a fun event and has grown exponentially to 4,000 runners in a population of 10,000. A Santa Run can be organized in any community: Contact Santa Run Office, Ladywell Precinct, Newtown SY16, Wales, United Kingdom.
The Waiting Game
Re: "What Took So Long?" by John Sugg (Jan. 19-25)
I like this piece, but would add one caveat. Prior to the implementation of the generally nefarious Patriot Act, intelligence information could not be used for purposes of criminal prosecution. The taps on Al-Arian's phone and computer were done (as I understand it) under the terms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This could not be used to build a case against Al-Arian until after the Patriot Act became law. Then all such information became fair game. So that is an important reason why so many years passed between the start of the investigation and the bringing of indictments. Hopefully the month of April will reveal what laws, if any, Mr. Al-Arian has actually broken. I would also add that from my perspective, the old "firewall" between intelligence info and evidence for criminal prosecutions was a bad idea. It restricted too much the machinery of justice. If I can think of anything else good to say about the Patriot Act, I'll let you know.
John Sugg responds: Harvey Nelson correctly states the theory behind the FISA wiretaps. However, Sami Al-Arian's lawyers have ample evidence from federal agents that the information in the FISA wiretaps had been shared long before the PATRIOT Act. Moreover, the government - right up to then Attorney General Janet Reno - in 2000 thoroughly reviewed the case against Al-Arian's brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, and released him. The government could have continued his detention, and Reno, the Immigration judge in the case and the U.S. Attorney's Office (which had chosen not to prosecute) had full access to the secret evidence. Reno certainly was aware of the FISA wiretaps. Moreover, as I have quoted, the then-chief of FBI counterterrorism, Bob Blitzer - another person who would have been aware of and had access to the FISA wiretaps - told me in 1998 without qualification that no federal laws were broken by Al-Arian and his colleagues. Since, as a nation we recoil from the concept of ex post facto laws - although the Bush regime has tried to plant them in our justice system via the PATRIOT Act and other draconian legislation - only by creating laws banning acts in the past could Blitzer's analysis be undermined.
Re: "The River Is Wide," by Mary Mulhern (Jan. 19-25)
Thank you for your excellent write-up on Monet's London. It was so interesting and readable. Interesting because you educated us about the zeitgeist of turn-of-the-century London and explored the show from that viewpoint, allowing the reader to detach from the blockbuster celebrity names long enough to see them in a historical context, importantly redefining the works' meaning to a contemporary audience. Readable, yes. Your writing was accessible to the vast non-artspeaking world while never backsliding into PR fluff; it was educational but not stuffy, mature without being condescending and asked the reader to come in, rather than the typical art-journalism-intimidating prejudice. In short: professional writing, good angle, I want to go and see it more than I did before. I'll have my students read it.
Ringling School of Art & Design
Re: "Political Whore: Your Honor, I Object," by Wayne Garcia (Jan. 5-11)
I for one do not want to see any change in Hillsborough County politics. I hope it stays the same corrupt entity it always has been. Why do I feel this way? Well, it keeps giving me things to write about!!! Seriously though, it's great to see the local politics back in the Planet.
Scott M. Deitche
Author, Cigar City Mafia: A Complete History of the Tampa Underworld