Letters from our readers.
June 19 1998 3:30 AM

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The Old Yorker

I very much miss the quirkiness you speak of regarding The New Yorker ("Assessment"). Tina Brown has turned the magazine into just another pandering, up-to-the-minute glossy ... sort of like George without the big perfume ads and photo layouts. It's too bad. Now where do I go for quirk?

--Leslie Paigel

Chainsaw Let Loose


About your comment in the June 16 "Today's Papers" about the "inordinate" amount of coverage that Al Dunlap's firing got: This guy has become a corporate symbol--arrogant, cocky, boasting he can turn a company around in seven months when others need years, eschewing corporate jets for coach seats. In other words, a Lee Iacocca for the 1990s, only instead of cars, he's been selling his own qualifications in his never-ending quest to land other CEO jobs. As a business reporter, I can tell you how hard it can be to write about business leaders, who are generally careful, scripted, and pretty dull. Perhaps Sunbeam isn't much in revenues, but Chainsaw Al is good copy--anytime. But I personally hope the Los Angeles Times is right: that boards have grown tired of "slash and burn" CEOs. The Sunbeam board's eagerness to get rid of Chainsaw Al is a marked contrast to the story I've been working; namely, the United Auto Workers strikes against General Motors in Flint, Mich. There are no clear winners in this one and no sign when this might end. Even if it ends, it doesn't end, because GM's problems are far from over.

--Micki MaynardUSA Today Detroit bureau chief

Of Wealth and Men

James Surowiecki needs to read more carefully. In "Real Things" he criticizes a piece I wrote in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine for assuming that American manufacturing is all but dead and gone. Then he goes on to describe "the resurrection of America's industrial base." But I would never have made such an ignorant statement. What I did say is that "the glitter of instant wealth" being made on Wall Street is overshadowing the steadier achievements of the people, wage-earners and businessmen alike, who used to call themselves "producers." That's a cultural critique, not an economic report.


--Michael KazinWashington, D.C.

James Surowiecki replies: Actually, I was responding to Kazin's cultural critique and not whatever economic report he did or did not make. In pointing to the way Wall Street now values industrial companies and other traditional businesses, I was trying to show that in fact investors, at least, have a great deal of respect for "the manufacture of useful goods and vital services" and not the "glitter of instant wealth" (Internet fever aside). Unlike the 1980s, when the economy's leading figures often seemed to be people like Michael Milken and Boone Pickens, who were "speculators" in that classic populist sense of the word, the people who get the most attention and respect today are almost all businessmen who spend their time making things, not playing with other people's money: Bill Gates, Michael Dell, or whoever. In that sense, the stock market boom is founded firmly on the "steadier achievements" to which Kazin refers.

Marrying for (Less) Money

Robert McIntyre compares apples with oranges in his article "What Marriage Penalty?" Of course it is true that for a given level of spending, lowering one tax will require raising another. And if many taxpayers are married, any new tax will be levied in part on them. However, the real question is whether under the current tax code, all other things being equal, you are better off living together unmarried than tying the knot. Unlike McIntyre's un-PC example regarding blindness, marriage is a choice; for some, taxes will feature in a decision to get married. And for two-income couples, getting married nearly always results in a higher tax bill. You can consider that a penalty or their just reward, but that's a different debate.


--Roger Nord

Hard Labor

I am writing to compliment James Surowiecki on his simultaneously rigorous and humanistic analysis of the General Motors strike ("Moneybox," June 10). He has pegged the contradictions facing American labor with a precision sorely lacking in the mainstream coverage of this episode. The negative stereotypes defining labor in the mainstream press are easily invoked, but rarely is the positive rationale behind organization defined beyond "worker dissatisfaction." Labor in the United States is by no means perfect, and dealing with intransigent unions can be a byzantine, harrowing, and expensive process. In many ways labor can be characterized as decadent in its victory over the truly horrible conditions of the early 20th century, and many of us wish to believe that the American worker has been given too much and should be slapped back into line with the realities of the global marketplace.

Surowiecki points out the shaky rationale for this particular strike but does not end there, reminding us that the control we have over our workplaces and the responsive nature of American management (in abiding by the bulk of these rules or by factoring labor unrest into their long-term calculations) can be directly attributed to the efforts of the American labor movement (regardless of whether or not one-trick pony Ronald Radosh wishes to brand them all as subversives). Compliments also for his reminder that those efforts are personal and carry consequences for those who are willing to take the risk of confrontation.


--Stuart TurnerWashington, D.C.

The Man Behind the Firing Range

In his "Assessment," David Plotz characterizes Charlton Heston's life, both on-screen and off, as unremarkable. The anecdotal evidence for this spurious conclusion? Heston's prolific on-screen career is marked by an assiduous research of his roles, a consistent and committed work ethic, politeness to co-workers, respect to directors, and a humble self-effacement--all of which have resulted in a prolific string of performances and superstar popularity. His private life is characterized by an enduring, 54 year relationship with his wife, an extremely close relationship to his children, and a preference for studying history and writing (which Plotz admits he does very well). Ho hum. One wonders what Plotz considers remarkable. That a man could have such a long acting career in and around Hollywood, display none of his profession's characteristic egotism and self-absorption, and maintain close, intimate family relationships, including a 54 year marriage, strikes me as remarkable, indeed. Heston's political involvement is summed up as the dabblings of a dilettante. The examples of his rhetoric provided are labeled as "nasty," while many--myself included--find them insightful as (only slightly) hyperbolic illustrations of the absurdity to be found in modern American government. One can't help wondering if Plotz would have found more remarkable signs of genius in Heston's life if only he had obliged with more egotistical displays, a family life in shambles, and political and social views to the left of center.

--Mark D. CaudleBeavercreek, Ohio

Making Letters Better

About the June 12 edition of "Today's Papers": at the risk that the author was "just kidding," I can't believe that a serious journalist would think factual mistakes in a publication's articles are comparable to factual mistakes in letters to the editor. Regular readers tend to be the best editors of the factual mistakes in letters. However, those same readers need to be confident that a publication's own staff are held to a higher standard of accuracy. If not, we can rely on the publication about as much as we can rely on the accuracy of news in Usenet's alt.conspiracy newsgroup.

--Peter ClarkeSeattle

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