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Indonesia's people running 'amok'?

In "Why Indonesia so often erupts" (Nov. 23), the writer opens his article by identifying the expression "to run amok" as "derived from an Indonesian word." I believe the term "amok" has Tagalog origins, and came to Americans with the US-Philippine war at the turn of the century. This war, intended to be a quick colonial conquest for the US, dragged on for years on the island of Mindanao, where stubborn Moro mujahaddin resisted strenuously. American newspapers frequently resorted to racist characterizations of Moro resistance, and congressional testimony recorded the fury of US atrocities committed by our unseasoned, inflamed troops. Defiant Moro warriors, who were known to attack US encampments in solitary suicide-strikes, were dismissed as being crazy with the use of the Filipino term "amok."

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Many people across Indonesia, from Aceh to East Timor, feel similarly under attack. As with the Mindanao Moros, this author mistakenly seeks racial or cultural explanations for their staunch defiance to oppression. Perhaps they are being provoked beyond all endurance and feel that they must resist energetically in order to defend their families and freedom. We call courageous warriors who fight for our cause "heroes"; those who lead the enemy are said to "run amok."

Fred Hill

Charlestown, Ind.

Editor's note: Most dictionaries identity "amok" as Malay or Javanese in origin.

Degrees of drug use

"How drug testing has changed the job market" (Nov. 20) contains too many blurred distinctions between drug use and drug abuse. Noel Ginsberg, president of Intertech Plastics Inc., was surprised at how widespread the "drug problem" was among the applicants for his company. When an applicant fails a test, does Mr. Ginsberg ask how often they use these drugs?

Let's pretend that traces of alcohol are detectable, like marijuana, for 30 days after use. If 50 percent of applicants were to test positive for small amounts of alcohol, would an employer suggest that the alcoholism rate is 50 percent?

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Tom Von Deck

Danbury, Conn.

Futuristic transportation schemes

I applaud the Monitor's coverage in articles on land planning, suburban sprawl, and, most recently, mass transit. "My mass transit" (Nov. 19) was refreshing and timely. But let me pour water on these hot topics: The statement that "the success of futuristic [transportation] systems not only depends on funding and performance, but also a change in attitude toward mass transit" partly misses the boat - sorry, train.

Rail systems are not futuristic and have been around for a long time. There has been a concerted effort to eliminate them by taxing railroads while subsidizing roads. When planners say that people aren't using mass transit but cramming on highways, they're generally opting for widening roads and tearing apart communities and extending sprawl. Mass transit systems pull communities together because they thrive on higher densities. But people can't very well use a mass transit system that doesn't exist - this is where government planning must step in to provide choices.

Futuristic transportation systems were also recently covered in the news: plans for space planes that can skip across the atmosphere to get from coast to coast in 45 minutes. Planners are again missing the boat. What is the point of spending billions of dollars on future systems when much less money could solve real problems by using existing methods? Transportation should not be studied and designed piecemeal but as a whole. This includes as many alternate methods as possible, as well as zoning, taxation, and land planning.

Jurgen Pape

Granville, Ohio

The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. Only a selection can be published, and we can neither acknowledge nor return unpublished submissions. Mail letters to 'Readers Write,' and opinion articles to Opinion Page, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to

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