Untitled Document

The Letters Of Paul Silverman


I began submitting letters to local newspapers over 45 years ago. From time to time, in reviewing those accepted for publication, I've been struck by how many of them still seem timely. The District of Columbia continues in its struggle to gain home rule and the rights accorded to citizens of other states. Unproductive wars, costly in lives lost or ruined as well as money, continue to be waged. Prison reform continues to be neglected. Some of my letters serve as memories of our history. And while others may prove trivial as time has passed, I appreciate what attention they received in their own time.

You may notice no output in the decade from 1988 to 1997. I was in full-time private practice during those years and I felt an obligation to minimize potential conflict with my clients. Similarly, during this most recent decade, the Washington Post has grown much too conservative to put up with the likes of me.

I am deeply grateful to my nephew, Dan Silverman, whose effort enabled me to resurrect old clippings from my files and give my published letters new life.

-PLS, 2012

1. Washington Post (March 27, 1966)

In a recent letter a contributor stated that he moved from an indifferent position on district home rule to an anti-home-rule position as a result of the boycotting tactics of the Free D.C. movement. I assume that readers sympathetic to that letter would propose, by similar logic, we abolish religious institutions because some of their members are fanatical, that we abolish political parties because some of their members are unethical, and that we abolish free elections because some voters are irresponsible. The rights and needs of hundreds of thousands of Washington citizens should not be measured by the actions of a few, particularly when the adjudged deplorability of those actions is debatable.

West Hyattsville

 2. Washington Post (August 21, 1966)

Sweeping Judgment

Staff writer John P. MacKenzie recently quoted from Judge Bazile’s decision upholding Virginia’s miscegenation law against Caucasian Richard Loving and his wife, a Negro. Said the Judge, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents . . . The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.”

I believe the Judge’s reasoning to be flimsy and arbitrary. If such were God’s intent, why did He put the Lovings together at the same time and place? Why did He bring to them love and matrimony and make them capable of cohabitation and conception? If God intended racially separate continents, why did He place in Asia white Russians adjacent to yellow Chinese? If the Negroes in this country belong from whence they came, then why shouldn’t the whites make sail for Europe and return this continent to the American Indians? And if we are to adhere to the basic democratic tenet of separation of church and state, then what does God’s business have to do with the Judge’s anyway?

West Hyattsville.

3. Washington Post (May 31, 1967)

Not a Paper Tiger

We have committed to Vietnam almost half a million men and are spending $2 billion monthly in our military effort there. For more than two years we have bombed, killed, and mauled at a rate to satisfy the most grueling requirements of war on a grand scale. We have proven our point. The United States is not a paper tiger and we are not patsies for Communist aggression. The polls which show that a quarter of our people are reckless enough to propose nuclear destruction of North Vietnam are no justification for turning against reason. Can we now de-escalate, negotiate, and withdraw from Vietnam before the urging of World War III dwarfs the dubious motives that first cajoled us into this folly?


4. Washington Post (August 31, 1967)

Safe Cigarette?

Congressional dickering over words of warning on cigarette packages is tantamount to debating whether to treat gangrene with cod liver oil or bicarbonate of soda. The evidence is clear that people will smoke despite the warnings as they serve as no substantial deterrent. What is needed in addition to anti-tobacco propaganda is a resolution that will protect individuals’ health but also realistically acknowledge the urges and practices of people. It seems to me such a resolution is to concentrate effort on the development of a safe cigarette. In addition to satisfying oral craving, a nonpathogenic cigarette will protect the Government’s tax interests, the tobacconists’ profit interests, and the ideologists’ interest in free choice. At this point the concept of a safe cigarette may be a pipe- dream, but one can never be uncovered without the determination to find it.


 5. Washington Post (January 7, 1968)

Travel Restrictions

In preparing a response to the President’s proposal to legislate restriction of “nonessential” foreign travel, my effort at coherent argument has given way to visceral reactions. My brain can merely conjure images of America’s Iron Curtain or Berlin Wall. My ears strain as the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” becomes a faint echo. My vocal cords can only utter, “Bleh!”


6. Washington Post (September 19, 1968)

Is it any wonder there is widespread disenchantment with our Government when the major Presidential campaign issue is “law and order” while none of the Presidential candidates nor Congress have taken a firm stance on gun control legislation? How can we appeal for order while massively distributing the instruments of violence, hostility, and disorder? Such gross illogic and flagrant disregard of public opinion polls can only alienate the minds of thinking men and sour the hearts of humane men.


7. Washington Post (July 26, 1969)

In its written transcript of Senator Kennedy’s televised statement, the Associated Press may have overlooked one of the most telling points in that presentation, namely the senator’s obligation to decide for himself whether or not he will resign from office.

AP quoted Kennedy as saying, “And so I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this through with me in facing this decision (resignation). I seek your advice and opinion in making it. l seek your prayers.”
To my ears those same words were punctuated in this way: “And so I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this through with me. In facing this decision, I seek your advice and opinion. In making it, I seek your prayers.”


8. Washington Post (October 19, 1970)

As a liberal with clearly defined limits, I am offended by the term “Radic-lib.” The hyphenation of these two words is a blatant attempt to vilify liberal causes by associating them with less popular radical interests. If turnabout is fair play I suggest the popularization of “reactionary-conservative-moderate” which can be shortened to “react-con-mod.”


 9. Montgomery County Sentinel (1970)

Dr. Silverman Heads ACLU

Dr. Paul L. Silverman of Rockville has been elected chairman of the Montgomery County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union for 1971-72.
Dr. Silverman, 34, is chief psychologist of the D.C. Children’s Center in Laurel, a correctional institution for delinquent youngsters.

A member of the ACLU board since June, Dr. Silverman’s past ACLU work has involved investigation of the Montgomery County Detention Center and involuntary commitments to mental institutions.

Other officers are Richard Abell of Bethesda, vice-president; Penny Feuerzeig of Silver Spring, secretary; and Dr. Earl Callen of Chevy Chase, treasurer.

10. Montgomery County Journal (1970)

Silverman Elected

Dr. Paul L. Silverman of Rockville has been elected 1971-72 chairman of the Montgomery County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Dr. Silverman, 34, is chief psychologist of the D.C. Children’s Center in Laurel.
Other 1971-72 officers are Richard Abell of Bethesda, vice president; Penny Feuerzeig of Silver Spring, secretary; and Dr. Earl Callen of Chevy Chase, treasurer.

11. Washington Post (February 3, 1971)

Kennedy Portraits Critiqued

Aaron Shikler’s painting of John Kennedy pays tribute to the death but not the life of the former president. With head bowed and arms folded, the portrait testifies primarily to grief-stricken memories. It fails to reflect the best qualities of the living Kennedy, a man of intelligence, confidence, sensitivity, and humor.


12. Washington Post (September 17, 1971)

The tragedy at Attica is a glaring example of the end to which the hysterical advocates of “law and order” would drive us. So harsh was the treatment that many of the prisoners preferred execution to an existence under such repressive and inhumane conditions. The next time someone blithely comments, “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key,” remind him of the 10 dead hostages whose families wish prison reforms had taken place years ago. Hopefully, the incident at Attica will awaken the public and legislatures to the need for alternatives to unexpurgated punishment.


13. Washington Post (March 13, 1972)

In defending capital punishment, the letter of Otis McCormick (March 8) criticizes the “civil libertarians, the soft of heart, and head, and the courts, (who) have made this a permissive society where crime is forgiven.” Undoubtedly Mr. McCormick’s concerns are genuine and based on moral assumptions. Just as assuredly, Mr. McCormick is un¬schooled in the social sciences. His fundamental principle of morality may be expressed as, “The good guys deserve rewards; the bad guys deserve punishment.” While this principle has appeal, when taken alone, it obscures a universe of factors relating to the causes of crime, the methods of effective rehabilitation, and the failure of correctional systems based on punishment and control.
For example, when those convicted of crime are disproportionately representative of the poor, the unemployed, the educationally deprived, and the victims of racial prejudice, it seems logical to conclude that criminal behavior is related to something quite apart from an individual’s freedom to choose whether to be a good guy or a bad guy. When jail sentences, costly though they are, do little more than produce human suffering and increase alienation from society, it is reasonable to explore other alternatives. When suicide occurs more frequently than homicide, as it does in this country, we might conclude that the frustrations of contemporary living exact a greater toll of ourselves than each other. Clearly human beings are not free to shape their lives in simple accordance with their consciences. Therefore a full consideration of society’s response to crime must extend beyond Mr. McCormick’s morality: There is a point at which an individual’s responsibility for his own actions stops, and society’s responsibility begins.


14. Montgomery County Sentinel (July 20, 1972)

ACLU’s Opposition

In reporting the County Council’s endorsement of the Council of Governments drug trafficking intelligence force, the Sentinel (July 13) stated, “Surprisingly, no one showed up at a scheduled afternoon public hearing to warn against possible infringement on civil liberties...” The statement presupposes little or no vocal opposition to the so-called MIG proposal: To the contrary, the American Civil Liberties Union branches throughout the D.C. metropolitan area expressed strong opposition to the plan. On May 26, representing the Montgomery County Chapter of ACLU, Dr. Earl Callen spent several hours in testimony and open discussion with the County Council concerning the MIG proposal. If the Council saw fit to approve the plan, it was not because they were without benefit of testimony identifying the assault on civil liberties represented by the plan.

Past Chairman,
Montgomery County ACLU

15. Washington Post (1974)

As one of many metropolitan dog owners, I admire Coleman McCarthy’s courage more than his logic in advocating the urban exile of our canine friends. McCarthy’s arguments, based on public health and safety, are worthy but biased in that they identify liabilities without any consideration of the degree to which pets enrich human life. By extension of such one-sided reasoning automobiles, electrical appliances, and swimming pools should also be banned. Indeed, health and safety might be fostered further if human beings isolated themselves in sterilized cubicles. I would not care to live in a barren environment in which health and safety reign supreme to the exclusion of other values. They are requisites but not objectives of life.


16. Washington Post (December 17, 1974)

`Purge the Language’

In pursuit of the theme to purge the language of unnecessary references to persons by sex (Letters, Dec. 12), I call attention to the redundant use of two pronouns when referring to a class of persons of either sex. Example: “If a child disobeys his or her father or mother, he or she should be issued a prompt reprimand by him or her.” When gender need not or cannot be specified the use of a neuter pronoun would serve as a helpful alternative to such awkward constructions. Let “shem” represent the subjective pronouns “she or he,” “hem” represent the objective  pronouns “him or her,” and “hes” represent the possessive pronouns “his or her.” Hopefully, however, grammarians can operate with some restraint in generating neuter alternatives lest children’s comprehension of language be retarded indefinitely.


17. Washington Post (June 1, 1975)

Your editorial, “The Cost of Fighting Crime” (May 19), offers several, constructive suggestions. Among them are your advocacy of more innovative approaches to combat crime, a greater degree of input from the private sector to identify methods, and a higher priority in the funding of juvenile programs.
There are, however, two points in your editorial that illustrate the frustrations and confusion that characterize much of the thinking about these issues. One is your implication that the juvenile justice system corrupts more than it corrects. It is well to keep in mind that, despite his tender age, the teen-age offender has already come a long way down a twisted path of development. More effective preventive measures can divert many of our youths from the juvenile justice sys-tem but government still has the obligation to intervene in those numerous cases that have slipped through the cracks. Our effort should be directed toward improving the juvenile justice system rather than erasing it or doing an end run around it.

Secondly, you commit a logical fallacy in concluding that money can’t cure social ills merely because it hasn’t as yet met all of its promises. A more prudent interpretation is that some programs have been ill-conceived and some spending mis-directed. In that the crime problem has intensified, this is hardly the time to withdraw fiscal support and ignore the social machinery wielding the greatest influence and expertise to combat the problem. Let’s not hide our heads in the sandwith the innocent wish that crime will  somehow go away of its own accord.

Chief Psychologist,
D.C. Bureau of Youth Services.

 18. Washington Post (October 20, 1975)

While many liberally-minded people deplore the illegal spy tactics of the FBI or CIA, nevertheless, their ears eagerly extend a foot longer at the opportunity to eavesdrop on the Nixon tapes, or more recently, the Secretary of State’s casual dinner conversation. The noble as well as the ethical remedy would have been to apprise Dr. Kissinger that his conversation was being monitored and tos turn the microphone off. Failure to do so on the part of those who advocate rights of privacy represents an indefensible double standard.


 19. Washington Post (May 8, 1977)

David Frost was correct in demanding Mr. Nixon’s confession of illegal acts and admission to abusing the powers of the presidency. It is only following such a purge that the Nixon administration can be remembered for political events other than Watergate. But the leopard hasn’t changed it spots. The interview revealed a tenacious man whose motives and morals are steadfastly shallow and self-serving. Like the President of old, his endeavors to display warmth and solicit sympathy were contrived and unconvincing. In a painfully familiar pattern, he acknowledged only the inescapable truths. How sad and disappointing it is that the past three years have produced no mellowing, no new perspective, and only the faintest trace of humility.


 20. Washington Post (June 14, 1977)

Several years ago John Risher and I served as sequential chairmen of the Montgomery County Civil Liberties Union. At that time I enjoyed a close association with Mr. Risher, whose integrity and principles I still hold in highest regard. In the matter of Sterling Tucker, to compare Risher’s actions with the political tactics of John Mitchell is patently unfair. One could argue more persuasively that Risher, like Leon Jaworski, could tolerate no cover-up nor abuse of public office. I am confident that Mr. Risher’s judgment was colored by nothing otherthan his duty to execute the D.C. Code.


 21. Washington Post (February 15, 1978)

I commend the Washington Post for your thoughtful editorial of February 15 reiterating and justifying your policy of not publishing the names of rape victims. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press but does not sanctify wanton and callous abuse of that right. Newspapers are extraordinarily potent agents of social development and change. Their uncensored power should be guided by maturity and a sense of social responsibility. The relatively recent advent of ombudsmen is a step in the right direction. I, for one, would like to see a closer examination of the social impact of newspapers, not merely by social scientists, but by journalists themselves. In that way, the exercise of the First Amendment can achieve informed compatibility with doctrines of conscience.


 22. Washington Post (July 26, 1978)

In view of the apparent thoroughness in your treatment of the Peter Bourne affair, your editorial (July 21) expresses with confidence the conclusion that Dr. Bourne’s departure is justified. There was, first of all, the matter of drug prescription ethics. And then there was the “Cocaine Incident.” The political implications of Bourne’s relationship with the President were also discussed. And, finally, there was, in your judgment, his  “overwrought and overbearing” letter of resignation.

Although these events are clearly relevant in evaluating Dr. Bourne’s fitness for his job, I was chagrined that there was not the faintesthint of an assessment of his official performance as the President’s chief advisor on health and drug abuse. Your coverage of Peter Bourne brought to mind that I read more about Senator Brooke’s divorce than I do about his legislative posture. Despite the deluge of words about Andrew Young, virtually none of those words describe what he says on the floor of the United Nations.
In our appraisal of public officials, is there a place left to assess the quality with which they perform their appointed duties or must we
rely primarily on the way they conduct their private lives?


 23. Washington Post (November 18, 1978)

‘Alternatives to Prison’

Mary Mayhew’s Nov. 11 letter, “Alternatives to Prison,” is well-meaning but misinformed in several respects. In the letter, Miss Mayhew laments a decision by the D.C. Superior Court to initiate a program in which 24 youthful offenders “would be substituting restitution for a prison sentence, and for 140 others the program would provide more intensive supervision during probation.” The implication is that all of the program’s resources should be directed to restitution rather than “imprisonment.” Miss Mayhew’s argument is emotionally, if not factually, supported with a heavy dose of the rhetoric now fashionable among those who sweepingly protest incarceration.
Although youthful offenders may be committed to institutions or group homes, none of Washington’s juveniles are sent to “jail,” as Miss Mayhew contends. While many share the wish for improved conditions, the phrase “brutal, dehumanizing prison environment” is hardly apt in describing the city’s institutions in Laurel, Maryland. Conspicuously absent from those facilities are the iron-bar doors, cells and long corridors commonly associated with the word “prison.”

The terms “senseless warehousing” and “waste of dollars” are demeaning to the many professional and paraprofessional institutional employees whose daily toil and sincere effort are probably no less than that of the general working public.

Finally, if the commitment of youths to institutions is to be diminished constructively, then more intensive probationary supervision should be acknowledged as a highly appropriate preventive strategy.

Chief Psychologist, Social Rehabilitation Administration,
D.C. Department of Human Resources,

24. Washington Post (May 20, 1982)

Richard Cohen’s attack on the equivocation of psychiatrists in the Hinckley trial (May 20) is misdirected. Mr. Cohen would have done well to remember that the insanity defense is a statutory invention,not a psychiatric construct. To condemn psychiatrists and psychologists for failure to resolve a legal and philosophical dilemma created by lawmakers is unfair.


25. Washington Post (June 6, 1987)

I appreciate the message in a recent letter lamenting the declining use of the hyphen, but the author overlooked a grand illustration of his point. He might have defined a 50-pound, steel household appliance that cools us in the summer as a “heavy metal fan.” The insertion of a hyphen would thus differentiate a devotee of a special style of rock music, a “heavy-metal fan.”


26. Washington Post (September 13, 1998)

Excess Profits

The April 22 front-page story “Impotence Pill: Who Will Pay?” estimated that Pfizer, the drug company that holds the patent and manufactures the “potency pill” Viagra, may earn a record $5 billion in sales for that drug alone in the coming year. With all the controversy about whether consumers or insurance companies should pay the tab, why has there been no suggestion that Pfizer act with some constraint on its charges and profit?
Medical cost containment certainly has pinched the pockets of physicians and other health service providers in recent years. Does America’s love affair with free enterprise make drug companies exempt?

I propose a method to gain some leverage with greedy drug companies. Urge Congress to enact legislation that allows an inexpensive generic form of a drug to be introduced much sooner than now permitted by law if profit exceeds a given threshold.

If Viagra sells for $10 a pill, I can only imagine what a cure for cancer would sell for.


27. Washington Post (August 16, 2001)

A Plan for Oak Hill

Add to the 60 court orders and 44 monitoring reports levied against the Oak Hill Youth Center the thousands of orders issued by D.C. Superior Court placing juveniles in that facility, and then accuse the District government of mismanagement because the facility is overcrowded [editorial, July 26]? Something is radically wrong with this picture.
Let the mayor’s panel consider this remedy:

  • Establish a workable capacity for Oak Hill.
  • Pass legislation prohibiting judges from exceeding that capacity.
  • Provide adequate funding for community-based services for the overflow.
  • Let the Youth Services Administration do its job and stop the perpetual morale-busting and unproductive finger-waving at the D.C. government.


28. Washington Post (September 23, 2002)

Mr. Welch’s Perks

Poor Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who, under pressure, requested that his retirement perks be clipped [“Welch Cuts Back Perks,” Business, Sept. 17].

Now, every night when he goes to bed, he struggles with the same question: Is the wine glass 99 percent full or is it 1 percent empty?


29. Montgomery County Journal (April 9, 2004)

Is Journal Seeking extinction?

Is the Montgomery Journal committed to a policy of extinction? With
your ever-shrinking newspaper, I can now read each issue in less than three minutes.

Although I’ve been a subscriber for as long as I can remember, and well over 15 years, don’t count on me for renewal when my current subscription expires.


daniel silverman