Jake the Snake
I'm sure your political correspondent, Jacob Weisberg, is smart and sophisticated and all that. I'm sure he's wise to the ways of Clinton and his handlers. Nobody will pull the wool over Weisberg's eyes. But it's a bore to read someone who's so confident in his own perspective that everything seems tired and transparent to him. His Nov. 5 "Dispatch" ("On the Campaign Trail") was a real exception--he told us what Clinton said, and he told us a little bit about how what Clinton said was experienced by those who heard him. He made the scene seem interesting, alive, and real. That's not my normal experience with Weisberg's columns. Anyway, if it's the start of a trend, it's a good trend, and I think he ought to continue in this vein. When he's bored, we're bored. When he makes an effort to look around and see and comment, we're interested and rewarded.
Beat the Press
In his "Dialogue" with Susan Estrich ("Did Clinton Harass Paula Jones?") and his "Hey, Wait a Minute" column ("Paula Jones vs. Anita Hill"), Stuart Taylor Jr. argues that the "press" has stifled coverage of Paula Jones' lawsuit against the president.
Taylor, however, sheds no new light on the subject. He tells us nothing substantive about this case that the New York Times and the Washington Post had not already reported. Also, it's important to point out that Jones' suit is currently winding its way through the justice system.
Because Taylor reveals no new facts, I have to believe the press has done quite an adequate job. And, because the case is pending, some patience is probably in order. What's left to say? What does Taylor suggest? Should the press try the case, as he, apparently, has already done? Unlike Taylor, I'm confident the press will keep me adequately and fairly informed as the courts dispense justice fairly in this matter. Get a better shtick, Taylor. Beating up on the press is old and tiresome. Just like Bob Dole.
I would like to clarify a point I made in an "E-Mail to the Editors" that Slate published last week. My e-mail responded to Paul Krugman's "Economic Culture Wars," a polemic against more "literary-minded" economists like James K. Galbraith. Krugman responded to my e-mail in his "Dialogue" with Galbraith ("Who's the Real Economist?").
The point I tried to make in my e-mail was that Krugman confuses mathematical rigor with science. I have no criticism of the former (and use it myself), except to note that many important issues cannot be quantified. Instead, I believe we need a version of the "serenity prayer": Economists need the skills to do quantitative research, the knowledge needed for qualitative research, and the wisdom to know when each is appropriate and what its limits are.
Science, on the other hand, involves avoiding a dogmatic attachment to any method of analysis. It also entails being open to reading and respecting ideas one disagrees with. This involves, among other things, avoiding criticizing someone's book without reading it simply because the author is a lawyer and not an economist, as Krugman has done with Robert Reich's The Work of Nations.
A scientific attitude also involves eschewing the glorification of the self-appointed and self-promoting academic pecking order of "Big Name" schools and authors. This kind of glorification might be justified if economics were actually like physics, with a clear ability to predict the behavior of our subject matter so that we could objectively decide which economists were better than others. Having attended two Big Name schools, I know that we can't take anybody's work for granted. Some of these Nobel Prize winners don't want to deal with empirical reality at all.
My irritation with the adulation of Big Names does not arise from my lack of fame, or from my working at a small university (which gives me freedom from "publish or perish": I can write what and when I like, rather than having to "crank it out"). On the contrary, it comes from my experience with many colleagues who have jumped from fad to fad, from rational expectations to New Keynesianism (a k a monetarism), without any kind of historical perspective, just an eye to what the economics celebrities are saying. It surprises me to see a Big Name economics journalist like Krugman following this trend, and, further, using it to discourage dissent within the profession.
--James Devineprofessor of economicsLoyola Marymount University
Just a small quibble with Sarah Kerr's review of Breaking the Waves ("Sex and Longing"). Kerr claims that Lars Von Trier's last film to reach American audiences was Zentropa, when (as the "Links" section at the bottom of the article correctly notes) Von Trier's last film to reach these shores was The Kingdom, a film which, while made for television, was given a theatrical release in the United States.
Golden State Go Home
I want to report that, somehow, your quality control slipped, and you let Robert Ferrigno's "Letter From Washington" ("Kiss My Tan Line") slide into Slate! Ferrigno's article purports to be about Washington state becoming a northern franchise of California, but it reads more like a case of deadline desperation.
I am a Yakama Indian from Washington state. Having lived here my entire life, I find Ferrigno's premise offensive and his point of view so lacking in humor, nuance, balance, and perception, that, were I a subscriber, I would drop Slate in a second! And he makes a living writing?
I don't care that most of you on Slate are not from Washington state, and that your sympathies may not be with Ferrigno. The simple truth is that if this article were meant to be a column or an opinion piece, it should have been marked as such and not presented as "hard journalism" or a report from the field.