Letters from our readers.
Sept. 26 1997 3:30 AM

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Scenes From a Marriage

Steven E. Landsburg's otherwise excellent analysis in "The Marriage Contract" omits the case where there is a third party involved, i.e., the kids. If Tom and Gerri would each individually be better off with a divorce, but their kid Terri would be worse off to a greater degree than the sum of the benefits to Tom and Gerri, and may not be involved in the negotiations, wouldn't it be safe to say that the covenant marriage is clearly superior in maximizing total well-being?

--Andrew BrecherWashington

Soul Man


In "Plain Folk," an otherwise fine review of The Anthology of American Folk Music, Luc Sante states: "[I]t is just as surprising to find out that such bluesmen as Hutchinson and Richard 'Rabbit' Brown were white."

This was a surprise to me, because I was sure that among the very few biographical details known about Brown was the fact that he was black. I've checked several sources and had this confirmed (and seen nothing to the contrary). There is nothing to this effect in the liner notes. I therefore wonder what the basis for Sante's statement may have been.

--Tom Freeland

The Cook, the Thief ...


Although it's hard to disagree with James Surowiecki's roasting of Wade Cook in "The Book on Cook," Surowiecki's assertion that the equity stock option market is "simply a big casino" that "contribute[s] nothing to the smooth functioning of capital markets" is both wrong and silly. Equity options, just like commodity and currency futures, can and often do serve a hedging function. Consider, for example, someone who owns shares of IBM at $100 and has a $20 paper profit on the stock. If that investor were willing to pay extra for the security of limited downside, she could buy put options with a strike price of $98, which would lock in her profit on the shares at $18, less whatever the options cost. Hardly the act of a speculator in a casino.

Equity options themselves aren't the problem--they have legitimate uses--and without the ability to lock in positions that equity options offer, certain folks might not be in the equity market in the first place. People like Wade Cook are the problem. I wish Surowiecki had made that distinction.

--Joe OshaNew York City

To Di For


The very insinuation that Hillary Rodham Clinton could possibly have anything to learn from Princess Diana was intriguing enough to make me click on Margaret Carlson's "Hillary and Di." Though I had hoped for something more interesting than spin control for women in a man's world, I was impressed with the breathtakingly casual lack of fairness to the first lady that created the intriguing premise.

Carlson contends that Diana was more successful for her causes than Hillary has been for hers, even though Diana was clearly less committed to her charity work than to her jet-setting lifestyle. Carlson writes that "[l]and mines made it onto the world's agenda because Diana put them there," implying that Diana was a success, and that "there are still 47 million people with no health insurance," implying that Hillary is a failure.

Apparently Carlson is unfamiliar with the old saying about apples and oranges. All Diana had to do to succeed, in Carlson's mind, was to get people talking. The first lady, on the other hand, had to actually make an unprecedented change in American public policy before she could measure up. If we use the same standard for both, Hillary was a great success (more people talked about health care than are talking about land mines) and, at best, the jury is still out on Diana (though I imagine land mines will go on killing people for decades to come).

I'm afraid that Carlson has been infected with the same virus, epidemic since Diana's death, that makes people recast all criteria for a good and successful life in terms that only Diana can meet. No matter that another woman might have done more good than Diana: She doesn't stand a chance--unless she, too, has the public relations windfall of a spectacular and tragic death. That's quite a legacy for the late princess.


--Shane HamWashington

The Searchers

In "Where the Sidewalk Ends," David Plotz reviewed CitySearch and several other online guides to a variety of American cities. He commended our arts and entertainment coverage, but concluded that "something is missing ... namely, the city." A more comprehensive review of the online city guides might have led Plotz to the community section of CitySearch7 San Francisco, where he might have found the city he was looking for.

He said that the local guides "ignore politics," although we list and describe the work of over 300 activist organizations in the Bay Area and 200 municipal agencies. The charge that our guide is "limited to capsule reviews and short, cheerleading columns about yuppiedom" is unfair. We write about, and for, an audience that reflects the vast sociological spectrum that is part and parcel of San Francisco life. Plotz concludes that online guides perceive of cities solely as "place[s] of consumption," but at CitySearch7 San Francisco we can't just gobble up our city--we have to live in it too.

--Marc Vogl, politics and activism editorCitySearch7 San Francisco


Regarding Stephen Harrigan's "Endless Summer," on plot holes in Contact, please allow me to nit-pick your nit-picking. You remark on the implausibility of Matthew McConaughey eating Cracker Jack in the Costa Rican jungle; that whole sequence takes place in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, which, when I last checked, was a commonwealth of the United States. One can safely assume that they import certain rare delicacies from the mainland.

You wonder at how, after the destruction of the extremely expensive machine, another one is built on Hokkaido; the entire premise--spelled out in the film--was that two were built at the same time, one as a backup. Nor does John Hurt's millionaire eccentric float around on "his own custom-made Mir." He is actually on Mir, where, he says, the Russians are happy to rent him space. Finally, you express shock that the alien Jodie Foster meets speaks English. The whole point is that upon her arrival they read her memories. Or didn't you find it odd that an alien intelligence appeared to her in the form of her father?

Now, why didn't you complain about something really important, like how fake the computer displays were? I mean, everyone knows that in real life computers don't have 3-D displays and make cool noises. Those pesky movies.

--Michael TritterNew York City

Stephen Harrigan replies: As to the Puerto Rico vs. Costa Rica issue, I am gravely wrong. I apologize to the readers of Slate, the makers of Contact, the manufacturer of Cracker Jack, and the citizens of the territories and commonwealths of the United States.

G.I. Jane

I feel the need to bring to your attention a major, major flaw in "One Woman's War," Sarah Kerr's review of G.I. Jane. Toward the end of this review, Kerr makes one of the most absurd statements I have ever read. It left me wondering if she is mentally competent, let alone capable of intelligently reviewing a film.

Here's what she said, after disclosing that she recently saw Demi Moore on a talk show looking more feminine, like an "innocent, wistful pixie," than her on-screen character in G.I. Jane: "She did not seem to be a person likely to say 'suck my dick.' It's tempting to conclude from this that she's empty at the core, trying on different personas to hide her lack of a self."

Hello, Ms. Kerr, are you familiar with the term "acting"? That's what Demi Moore does for a living, and that's what she was doing in G.I. Jane. Why should it be a surprise that an actor appears different in real life from an on-screen persona? Do you expect Sigourney Weaver to tote around an Uzi in real life, looking for aliens to shoot? If you saw Patrick Stewart on a talk show, and he wasn't wearing his Star Trek uniform, would you assume that he was "empty at the core"?

Someone with such a clear lack of understanding of the distinction between acting and being should perhaps not be writing movie reviews.

--James FloodBaltimore

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