Letters from our readers.
Sept. 12 1996 3:30 AM

Auteur Amateur


Alex Ross' "Island of Lost Auteurs" suffers from deficiencies that his just verdict on the latest film cannot alleviate. In praising John Frankenheimer's earlier works, Ross is much too gripped by a childish auteuristic fascination with the technical aspects of what are very minor works. And his appraisal of actors and acting is shockingly amateurish. It is amusing that he could mistake Brando's ludicrous and perfunctory posturing as some controlled experiment in caricature and parody, but the homoerotic slavering over Val Kilmer is infantile and unbecoming of anyone who is supposed to make informed aesthetic judgments. One would think a magazine like Slate would hire a film commentator who has something other than breezy pop-cultural enthusiasms to offer.

--Alex Khan


Huh? Could Ann Hulbert's review of Joan Didion's latest novel ("The Last Thing We Expected") be any more convoluted? Hulbert takes Didion to task for writing stories that go nowhere. I think Hulbert likes Didion's new work. Unfortunately, her review reads like any one of Didion's earlier novels, dense on prose, short on directness. If Hulbert has a point to make, she missed making it. I think I'll buy the book and take my chances.


--Ted Hopper

Property Rights

The premise of "The Norplant Option," by Stuart Taylor Jr., reminds me of the plan my township put into effect in the mid-'70s to protect and preserve prime farmland by purchasing the development rights.

This concept was picked up in the Clean Air Act: Polluters who reduce their toxic output beyond requirements can sell the right to molest the environment to others less willing or less able to control emissions.


Taylor proposes that teen-agers on welfare be paid to use an implanted device to prevent pregnancy. In effect, he suggests the government purchase reproductive rights, at least for a limited time.

Since wage slavery is a well-established phenomenon, and getting better established by the day, a little nonreproduction bribery sounds pretty mainstream. Our loyal opposition on the right used to tell us that "a man can do anything with his property." (Land-use regulation is a plot by Commies.) Isn't a woman's body her most personal property? Can't she do with it what she will?

--Paul Silver

Sexual Experimentation


I believe we would probably be justified in experimenting with the initiative outlined in "The Norplant Option," by Stuart Taylor Jr., in a limited and controlled way. At the same time, I am struck by what I find to be considerable conceptual confusion as well as an absence of fundamental analysis based on solid biology and sociology.

The initiative is, in fact, an intrusion by the government upon the individual. True, the government already makes or withholds payments based on a number of individual conditions, including the birth of a child, etc. However, there is a quantum leap in intrusion levels when payments are made based on something that is put under people's skin.

Coercion is inevitable. The argument that beneficiaries will get paid more rather than less for something is disingenuous: They will be paid less than would otherwise be the case if they refuse to submit, a point that no doubt will be made by many program administrators.

More fundamentally, the debate seems to ignore the biological forces at work. While underclass teen-agers may consciously have no interest other than in fooling around, their underlying reproductive strategy is a wide dissemination of genes to numerous offspring in the statistical hope that a few will make it. The proposed initiative equals an attempt to "buy people out" of their biological destiny. Some may reject it ; some others may, in effect, make a successful transition to a higher-class reproductive strategy and become "like us." Still others may be "neutered," with their vital energies being redirected in potentially dangerous directions.


Having said this, and given that there presumably are no panaceas, it might be appropriate to proceed with caution and let different proposals compete in the market of real life.

--Paul Kailor

Us and Them, Rights and Wrongs

I was disappointed that Slate chose to publish "The Norplant Option," by Stuart Taylor Jr. Why are we so interested in interfering with the sexual and reproductive rights of Them, those other than Us? If we turn the tables, and ask ourselves what laws we would choose to enact to curtail our sexual and reproductive rights, it becomes immediately clear how offensive and obtrusive such laws are to the rights of Them. What law would I be willing to sign against myself to curtail my sexual and reproductive freedoms? If I were certified insane, I might want the government to assign a guardian who would act to protect my reproductive rights, as I would not have the mental faculties do so myself. Otherwise, I cannot imagine any situation in which I would choose to have some self-righteous neighbor, a k a our government, sticking his nose into my business by telling me if, when, and how I can have sex or reproduce.

The fact that these sexual and reproductive intrusions are typically proposed by white men for black women should raise a red flag for anyone listening to such nonsense. One moment these self-righteous men would force a woman to bear a child. The next moment these same self-righteous men would force a woman not to bear a child. Either way, I cannot think of a more intrusive act--short of hanging.

--Jim Adcock


Michael Kinsley, you really are brain-dead to propose eliminating the 13th Amendment to solve the welfare problem ("Good Jobs at Now Wages"). You should consider this truism: "For every complex problem there is a simple solution, and it is always wrong."

--John James

Two Cheers for Slavery

I was disappointed that Michael Kinsley's "modest proposal" to reform the welfare system by re-establishing slavery ("Good Jobs at Now Wages") did not mention the book from which it was likely inspired, Hilaire Belloc's The Servile State (1911).

Unfortunately, a reader might consider the article merely humorous, describing an impossible proposition, where in fact, the basics of The Servile State (concentrated ownership and status-based laws governing employee-employer relations) have been long established, and the need for slavery in the light of the increasingly degraded condition of the welfare class becomes more evident. Slavery has been part of organized human society for thousands of years; people should not assume that it has breathed its last. Despite its obvious drawbacks, I doubt it is the worst way to organize society, and it may be better than our present narcissistic fashion.

--Brian Sponsler

Apples and Oranges

Please inform Robert Wright that he is indeed confused ("Styles of Polygamy"). There is a difference between adultery and divorce. I was flabbergasted that he could compare the morality of President Clinton and Bob Dole and imply they are the same. Divorce is caused by many things, including adultery, but to imply there is no difference between the two is just unbelievable.

--Joel Kimzey

Blue Notes

Jeffrey Steingarten's article on food aversions ("The Omnivore") reminds me of a perplexing phenomenon I have observed during the past few years. I am talking about the apparent growth in the popularity of blue food.

A study conducted at Oregon State University (where the maraschino cherry was invented) about 25 years ago found that blue was almost universally disliked as a food color.

Recently, however, something seems to have changed. I have seen many blue foods on the market: blue Jell-O, blue juicelike drinks, blue ice cream, and blue candy.

Mr. Steingarten, are we seeing a trend here? Assuming the Oregon State study was correct, what has changed in the Zeitgeist of the eating public to cause blue food to become acceptable? Do you think its rise in popularity parallels that of blue lipstick and blue nail polish? Are we talking about postmodern food here? Or punk food?

--James Curry

To the Left ...

Still heavy on the left-wing status quo. Not even any token "balance." Kind of like a Clinton promise. Nothing really new or different here either. You can get the same info in any of the mainstream press. Thoughtful and insightful? I don't think so. I guess you can still fool some of the people some of the time.

--Steve Hoke

... And to the Right

Despite assurances that your corporate sponsor would never influence editorial content, you are presenting such a right-wing, anti-Clinton position (don't believe it? Check out all the adjectives used in supposedly "evenhanded" stories) that your true colors (mainly yellow) are apparent.

--Tom Tarnowski