Letters from our readers.
Aug. 1 1997 3:30 AM

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Immune Deficiency

As a prosecutor who uses testimony compelled by subpoena to investigate white-collar crime, I was dismayed to read Akhil Reed Amar's proposal, in "Right and Huang," to alter the meaning of immunity to allow for the fruits of immunized testimony to be used against a criminal defendant.

All attorneys have an obligation to represent their clients to the fullest extent allowed by law. If Professor Amar's proposal became law, I would be obligated to force all investigation targets to testify just so that I could obtain the fruits of the testimony. It would be an excellent investigative tool.

Unfortunately, it would be an excellent investigative tool precisely because it would eviscerate the constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination. While it would make my job easier, it would also make this country a less desirable place to live.


--Jordan FinegoldBexley, Ohio

Aural Hex

There are apparently no boundaries to the misleading psychologizing of human experiences. Now, in "Tyson's Choice," Jeffrey Itell claims that Mike Tyson "may be ... afflicted" with "manic-depressive illness," as evidenced by his having bitten off part of Evander Holyfield's ear.

Part of Itell's unintentionally hilarious evidence for his conditional diagnosis is the alleged historic "connection ... between mania and artistic achievement," which, the author claims, has been "known" since ancient times. From this dubious premise Itell spins to his more preposterous conclusion that there "may well be a similar relationship ... between manic depression and sporting achievement." Itell points as evidence to two athletes--one of whom was depressed--and a psychiatrist who muses that "there are many other cases."


But the author's exculpatory coup de grâce is Tyson's claim that a psychiatric illness caused him to do things to Robin Givens (his former wife) that "he would normally never do." Then, finalizing his ode to non sequiturs, Itell analogizes Tyson's alleged "disease" to a "fatal disease" and even recommends that Tyson take psychoactive drugs and undergo a "medical clearance" on his behavior.

None of this nonmedical and simply silly analysis should blind the public to what happened in reasonably clear terms: An irresponsible boxer, motivated by fear of losing, took the easy way out, which entailed, he correctly anticipated, relatively few negative consequences. In previous fights, wherein he was winning or had a good chance to win, his "illness" did not manifest itself. Much alleged "psychotic illness" is the result of rational, if wrong-headed, calculation.

--Professor Richard E. VatzAssociate Psychology Editor, USA Today Magazine

The Pondering Jew


Herbert Stein's "On Being a Jew" reveals more about Stein's survival tactics in the face of anti-Semitism than it does about the centrality of the Jewish experience. Stein obviously chose to remember on which side his bread was buttered rather than address the larger issue of the Jew in a Christian world.

Of Richard Nixon's disgraceful anti-Semitic utterances, made public in recently revealed tapes, Stein can only meekly remark, "Apparently, Mr. Nixon said some things that I wish he had not said." Surely an entry for the understatement of the year.

As reported in the press, at long last, President Nixon, in the privacy of the Oval Office, said to his trusted aide, "John, we have the power. Are we using it to investigate the Jews? ... I can only hope that we are doing a little persecuting." Further, "Please give me the names of the Jews." And, "How about the rich Jews? The IRS is full of Jews, Bob."

Even such a staunch supporter as William F. Buckley Jr. squirmed in embarrassment as he defended his hero Nixon, calling him "paranoid" and dismissing his anti-Semitism as "all foam, no teeth," pointing out that Jews like Henry Kissinger, William Safire, and Herb Stein continued to support him although it was "unlikely" that they were "unaware" of his anti-Semitic tendencies.


Yet Stein can now write: "But I know of nothing in his behavior to me, to my family, to Israel, or to Jews in general that entitles him to anything less than my total loyalty."

Loyalty? To a president who can mouth (and therefore think) such dangerous anti-Semitic dynamite? Stein's posture is that of one who puts self-interest above principle, opportunism above ethics. In so doing he fails the Jewish people, and does a grave disservice to the sense of fairness and decency to all.

--Meyer RangellBloomingburg, N.Y.

Herbert Stein responds: What was in Mr. Nixon's heart and soul, and whether that was represented by the offensive things he said to some people, I do not know. I can only reflect my own experience and observation. I never had any reason to think that Mr. Nixon was anti-Semitic. I never heard him make a remark that was in the slightest degree suggestive of such an attitude. He was unfailingly friendly and sympathetic not only to me but also to other members of my family. As is well known, he appointed and relied upon a number of Jews--Kissinger, Burns, Safire, Garment, and me. His longtime political mentor, Murray Chotiner, was Jewish. He defended Israel when it was in the greatest danger of its history, in 1973, and the Israelis regarded him as their friend.

The statement in my article, "I know of nothing in his behavior to me, to my family, to Israel, or to Jews in general that entitles him to anything less than my total loyalty," is quite precise. It said neither more nor less than I meant and I stand by it.

Mr. Rangell attributes despicable motives to me, which can be summed up as "opportunism." Since Mr. Rangell does not know me, I think it inappropriate for him to make such judgments about me.

The Reign of Chain Weighs Plainly on the Brain

According to Seth Stevenson, in "Bound in Chains," electronic chain mail is campaigned against by certain Web sites on the grounds that it "wastes Internet bandwidth, reduces productivity, and exploits human emotions." He goes on to consider the "upside" to such mail, and closes by noting (perhaps jokingly) that he recently forwarded some on to 10 friends. Electronic chain mail certainly is objectionable for the reasons Stevenson notes. But more importantly, it is specifically outlawed on virtually all electronic-mail systems. The Internet Engineering Task Force's RFC on Netiquette Guidelines instructs: "Never send chain letters via electronic mail. Chain letters are forbidden on the Internet. Your network privileges will be revoked. Notify your local system administrator."

As the de facto rules of Internet use, RCF 1855 should be read by all new Internet users--including Slate writers. Slate does nothing to overcome the numerous hurdles it faces to acceptance by Net culture in suggesting that it's OK to engage in a practice which is forbidden (for numerous good reasons)--and which can result in its readers' accounts being revoked.

--Michael FuchsMenlo Park, Calif.

We Need to Talk

I agree with Jacob Weisberg's "Not Just Talk" that a national conversation on race that focused on ways of lessening de facto segregation would be a good thing. However, unless I am mistaken, this is not the conversation that President Clinton has proposed. It seems that we are in for a conversation about race as such, isolated from specific problems and specific policy proposals. Thus, the results are more likely to be those of Sheldon Hackney's ill-conceived multicultural conversations, which disintegrated, predictably, into the type of entrenched, obscurantist--indeed segregationist--identity-politics posing that is so familiar to those of us who have spent time on the campuses of elite universities.

Preliminary, local conversations on race have already been held in North Carolina, and they have gone nowhere. They have been, as they will be at the national level, conversations about racism. These make some people feel good by encouraging them to feel angry, and they make others feel good by letting them feel guilty, but they make the rest of us feel a distinctly tight sensation in our chests, as our hopes for a rational discussion are systematically disappointed. And they don't begin to address the concrete socioeconomic problems that exacerbate racial strife in this country, which Jacob Weisberg correctly highlights.

--Matthew J. Feeney

Namer vs. Namer

James Surowiecki writes in "You Name It": "One can only speculate how executives of a company called Combined Insurance explained to themselves their decision to adopt the name Aon." Actually, anyone who knows anything about the insurance business understands the reason for the change. Combined Insurance Company still exists and writes insurance under that name. The parent company recently acquired by merger the world's largest insurance broker, Alexander & Alexander Services Inc., and also a large British broker called Bain Hogg Group plc., which does substantial business in Asian countries. Alexander & Alexander was known to all insurance professionals as "A&A," which was a name with considerable brand value. So the newly merged company had several problems: how to announce to the world that it was now not only an insurance underwriter, but also a broker; how to keep the A&A brand value, without appearing simply to be gobbling up Bain Hogg; and how to do this with a name that is easy to say in European and Asian languages.

The answer, "Aon," is to my mind quite elegant. It keeps the initial capital A and the first two syllables of "A&A" (pronounced "A 'n' A"); it puns on "eon," which implies longevity and stability--a desirable connotation for an insurance-services company, especially one that has just undergone a major and disruptive change; it has a remote but perceptible similarity in sound to "Bain"; and it gives the company a unique, legally protectable, and memorable name, unlike the generic "Combined Insurance" moniker. The switch to "Aon" is very similar to the process that Standard Oil of New Jersey, whose main subsidiary marketed in most places under the same "Esso," went through when it switched to "Exxon." Although I have no way of knowing, I wouldn't be surprised if the Aon people modeled their choice on the Exxon example.

You'll notice that in my last sentence I idly speculated on the Aon company's use of the Exxon example. That's all right for me; I'm just a letter-to-the-editor writer. But Surowiecki is a professional. He should at least make a minimal effort to find out about his subject companies before he makes fun of them. I learned quite a bit about Aon at www.aon.com, which is more than Surowiecki did.

--Joe Ruby

Your Slippage Is Showing

Regarding Scott Shuger's question in "Today's Papers" as to why "less buying power for Americans in Japan and further slippage in the trade balance with European countries--aren't of equal concern." The United States runs a relatively small merchandise-trade deficit with Europe relative to its deficit with Japan (in some European countries, e.g., the United Kingdom, the United States runs a surplus). Although a strong dollar relative to several European currencies (notably the German mark and the Italian lira) is worrisome, it is nowhere near as serious as the huge ($50 billion in 1995!) trade deficit with Japan.

Another point to consider is that, for much of the 1990s, U.S. productivity growth has far outpaced that of its major European trading partners. This means that there is potential for the U.S. dollar to grow, relative to the European countries, without giving rise to a further significant worsening of the U.S. trade balance with Europe.

In closing, while I agree with you that a rising U.S. currency relative to its European partners may not be a positive development, it is certainly not "of equal concern" with the persistent trade deficit with Japan.

--Doug Heath

Summary Fudgement

In the interest of veracity, a couple of corrections to your rather inaccurate synopsis of Richard Russo's Straight Man in "Summary Judgment" (which, naturally, makes me wonder about that feature's synopses of those books, movies, etc., that I haven't read).

1) The synopsis infers that the narrative is propelled by an incident--the protagonist loses his job--which in fact does not occur until the last 30 pages of the novel. And he is offered a better job. Which he turns down.

2) The protagonist in no way "commandeers a television station." In fact, he becomes the inadvertent subject of a taped remote at the college campus.

OK, seemingly small details. But such are the delights of every Russo novel, so you might as well get them right.

--Harley Peyton

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