Letters from our readers.
May 1 1998 3:30 AM

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Veiled Threats

I linked to "Veil of Tears," by Anne Hollander, because it is always entertaining to read the latest misconceptions from the media on Muslim issues. While I was waiting for the browser to log me on, I thought maybe, this once, from a publication like Slate, I would be not amused but happily impressed by a thorough report. Silly me.

Bemused, I went through the illogical conclusions plus the tired rhetoric of veil equals oppression, blah, blah, blah. I laughed out loud when I got to the part where the author insisted that although the "girls" (uh, we're known as women here in the Islamic world, too) "claimed" they weren't oppressed by the veil, they, like, really were. Question: Did the author actually interview any of these "girls"?

One, maybe minor, point that I feel compelled to clarify has to do with this statement: "It seems suitable in Saudi Arabia, for example, where women can't vote." A little research here would show that no one votes in Saudi Arabia, be they men or women, because it's a monarchy, and voting's not really in.


Oh, by the way, I happily and quite comfortably wear my veil when I go shopping downtown. I tie it tight around my electrical/biomedical-engineering-from-USC-filled head, over my up-to-the-minute, very fashionable, mostly European designer clothes (sorry, don't mean to brag, just trying to break that ridiculous stereotype). And my curvaceous legs certainly don't show.

--H.A. Dialdin

Tabs of Steele

Perhaps all the tabloid reading Emily Yoffe has been doing on behalf of Slate has taken a toll on her logical capacities ("Pay for Say").


There is a very simple reason why George Stephanopoulos' book contract is less tainting (or less obviously so, anyway) than Gennifer Flowers' or the Arkansas troopers' lining up for tabloid/right-wing payouts. For the latter, the only value in their story is in its salaciousness: If they had told their benefactors that Bill Clinton was an upright man who never told a lie or looked twice at a woman, they wouldn't have got a dime.

As senior adviser to the president during a tempestuous first term, however, Stephanopoulos can provide insights and behind-the-scenes anecdotes that many readers will find interesting, even if he didn't see naked interns running up and down the West Wing. As a result, Flowers and the troopers (and Zercher and McGrath) have a much greater incentive to spice up the truth or to invent a story out of whole cloth.

Even Yoffe's example of Julie Steele backfires on her. After all, Steele wasn't paid for what she said, but for a picture of Willey and Clinton together. That photo was worth money to the Enquirer even if Steele claimed Willey was secretly the Dalai Lama. In fact, Steele probably could have earned more money if she had volunteered some scandalous yarn.

If your writer had been really incisive, she might have raised questions in the opposite direction: Do big advances like the one Stephanopoulos received increase the pressure on him to include some--perhaps false--"revelation" that can be used in promoting the book? Yoffe suggests that truth can be found just as easily in tabloids as in traditional publishing outlets; a less determinedly shallow analyst might wonder if the dominant role of money is suffocating the truth in both venues.


--Chris Kelly

Microsoft Economics

In his "Soft Microeconomics" piece, Paul Krugman tells us he uses WordPerfect and the Netscape browser. This may well be, but Internet Explorer is very likely on his computer, and he certainly paid for it even if he subsequently removed it. The idea that Internet Explorer is free is silly. It cost millions to develop, and that cost is amortized in the price of Windows.

This is one way the browser really is part of the operating system.


I doubt that Microsoft cares all that much which browser people use as long as they have to pay for Internet Explorer. In the fullness of time, there will be enough sites only viewable with Internet Explorer that Krugman and others will switch. Their personal preferences for Netscape won't be worth the inconvenience.

The same is true for Microsoft Word. I wouldn't be surprised if Word is already on Krugman's computer, so he can read all the Microsoft Word 8.0 documents produced by others, which are unreadable with WordPerfect. Eventually, he will use Word, even if he doesn't like its equation editor--it will be just too inconvenient to indulge his personal preferences. Perhaps he'll utter a little grumble of dissatisfaction, like all those grumbles coming from Mac users being forced to switch to Windows to be compatible. In the meantime, he has probably paid for Word, so why should Microsoft care?

There is absolutely no need for this, of course. Software companies could make their file formats public, enabling easy exchange of documents. The computer security expert Simson Garfinkel has provided a thoughtful discussion and interesting recommendations for government action in his column "Let My Data Go!"

One of the biggest myths about computer software is that it leads to "natural monopolies." In fact, the software incompatibilities that tend to create monopolies are carefully nurtured, precisely because they do create monopolies.

It may be natural for businesses to create and exploit monopolies whenever they have the opportunity, but that is why we have, and need to enforce, antitrust legislation. The software industry, if anything, has a greater need for protection of market competition.

Incidentally, as an academic, Krugman might be interested in a series of articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education on how Microsoft is reducing software competition in universities.

--John Franks

Evanston, Ill.

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