Letters from our readers.
July 17 1998 3:30 AM

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In the Bible Belt, "WWJD" Can Mean "Willy Wonka Just Died"

After reading Alfred Gingold's July 10 article, "Onward, Christian Clothiers," my first reaction was that ol' Alfie should take a breath. Who doesn't go through everyday life and see things that disturb one's aesthetic sense? Our culture is a sloganeering one. Why should Christianity be any different? Every company's marketing strategy has an underlying secondary message--drink Mountain Dew and you're extreme; buy Tommy Hilfiger (Gingold's example) and you're young, attractive, and not afraid to look like every other frat boy in the country.

My guess is that Gingold doesn't get out of New York much. Here in the Bible Belt, we've learned to desensitize ourselves to the crass underbelly of organized religion. My daughter comes home from school and tells me that other kids have come up with alternative meanings to the WWJD acronym--"We Want Jelly Doughnuts," "Willy Wonka Just Died," etc. There will always be people who wear this crap and others who get to make fun of them. Fair trade.

--Edward GogginTulsa, Okla.


I'll Take the Bait

I was offended by the article "Onward, Christian Clothiers," even though I am not religious. The idea that someone wearing their religion on their sleeve is someone to be looked down upon is anti-American at best. I am happy that people of faith are finally coming out of the closet, so to speak. Articles like this one invite reactionism, which is, I suppose, what the writer wants. Too bad.

--Matt Denny

Double Standards


I find it interesting that Alfred Gingold, in "Onward, Christian Clothiers," doesn't have a problem with pro-abortion T-shirts or vulgar T-shirts ("shit happens," "coed nude basketball," "bitch on wheels," etc.) but finds it necessary to tee off on evangelical Christian apparel. Why do overtly Christian messages bother him so much? Could it be that the claims of Christ make him uncomfortable? It seems that the only time liberals get excited about censorship is when it comes to preaching Jesus. Hmm.

--Jim Ost

Get With It, Ye of Little Faith

Regarding "Onward, Christian Clothiers": I often wonder if the peddlers of religious schlock have actually read any Scripture beyond the gory "here's hell in your face" passages. But, please: "The Christians are at it again"? There is more to Christianity than the "Christian right"--both Roman Catholic and evangelical/fundamentalist. The broad brush paints a picture of self-righteousness, whoever wields it. A great many of us witness to a faith of grace, not judgment--and do it with grace, not judgment.


--The Rev. Paul W. Sundberg

Who Gives a F*** About Tina Brown?

Now I'm well aware that it's Tina Brown's world and the rest of us are just living in it, but really, folks, enough's enough. Slate's coverage of Brown's departure to La La Land has been a tad, shall we say, excessive. It was bad enough that the subject was covered ad nauseam (and I mean ad nauseam) in "The Breakfast Table" this week and treated as a serious news development in "Culturebox." But when I saw this morning's teaser, "Slate's Tina Brown Roundup," I had to wonder whether you people have lost all perspective.

Perhaps I'm wrong and other readers are as endlessly fascinated with Brown as Slate itself is. But I suspect many agree with me that Brown's job change is essentially an industry insider story that holds little interest for those of who 1) don't work in the magazine trade and 2) don't hang in New York's trendier circles.


L'affaire Brown was worth maybe one story in Slate. When you reach the point of needing a roundup, you might want to re-examine your editorial priorities.

--Justin McGuireWashington

And Who Gives a F*** About Linda Tripp's Motives?

I am at a loss to explain the media's (and public's) desire to understand the motives behind Linda Tripp's tape recordings, as exemplified in the "Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious?" dialogue between Jonah Goldberg and Margaret Carlson. What do her motives matter in the context of either the investigation of the president or the investigation into her own taping?

The importance of Tripp's motives is not the same as for, say, Paula Jones'--because Tripp is not the president's accuser. She has passed along tape recordings that (allegedly) implicate the president by the words of a third party. Now, whether Lewinsky's words are truth and whether they were drawn out through Tripp's entrapment (which would also be on the tapes) are valid issues. But not Tripp's motives in making the recordings.

Maybe she's good, and maybe she's bad. Maybe you or I would not tape a friend, or maybe we think that Tripp's friendship is not what we would call friendship, but her motives in making the tapes are irrelevant to the charges against the president. While I have been a staunch Clinton supporter (and, to some extent, defender), the fact that we are allowing our debate over Tripp's character and motives to enter into our debate over whether the president perjured himself or encouraged others to do so shows the effectiveness of the White House spin doctors.

Please stop worrying about Tripp's motives--if there is a debate over this it is a debate over the limits of friendship when confronted with (potentially) criminal acts on the part of the friend. This is a valid question, but Tripp's morals per se are irrelevant. Stop wasting your editorial bandwidth and reporters' time on this.

--Phil GilbertAustin, Texas


In his July 11 piece, "Nerd vs. Nebbish," Franklin Foer presents a few alternative explanations for the origin of the word "nerd." When I was an undergraduate at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute about 30 years ago, it was widely believed that "knurd" (the pronunciation was the same) was simply "drunk" spelled backward.

The usage was similar to current usage: A knurd was someone who spent too much time studying and not enough time socializing. This was in sharp contrast to the stereotypical frat boys, who, in a time when the word "party" was exclusively a noun, would consume excessive amounts of alcohol as part of their recreational activities. The two campus archetypes were considered to be such polar opposites that the word knurd emerged. In those days, in addition to the ill-fitting permanent-press clothes that didn't seem to work, the pocket protector, and the thick glasses held together with electrical tape, the proto-knurd wore a slide rule on his belt. The stereotype was so pervasive and pejorative that even at RPI, one seldom actually saw a belt-mounted slide rule, a pocket protector, or glasses repaired with tape.

I have seen evidence of this usage and spelling in old campus humor magazines dating back to the '40s and '50s. I don't have any explanation for the current spelling.

--Eugene BrytonLos Angeles

Blond Roots

Anne Hollander, who wrote "Clothes Sense," must be either very young or very something to miss the roots, so to speak, of the not quite blond bombshell phenomenon! You don't have to go back to the 15th century, although I'm sure some people find that stuff amusing, or to Dennis Rodman, whom nobody finds amusing. The modern origin of this look is none other than Debbie Harry! Blondie!! For Christ's sake!!! Look it up.

--Pete Ostle

Trashing "Recycled"

Maybe William Saletan could do a spin analysis of how Slate reposts "Recycled" stories and labels them "new." While it's true that recycling generally means finding a new use for something previously used, to slap a "new" label on a story written a year or more ago takes a certain bending of reality. Is this a low cost means for creating the appearance of beefed-up content? I would much prefer that Slate cough up the dough for one more new new story each week.

--Michael Page-EnglishOak Harbor, Wash.

Combat Readiness

I read with interest Lawrence Korb's July 10 statement in "The 21st Century Military" that "Reserve ground combat units at the brigade level and above cannot be maintained at any reasonable level of readiness on a part-time basis because of the complexity of combined arms." He accurately states the current situation for U.S. Reserve and National Guard combat units. He also implies that it would be impossible to maintain combat readiness in such units. I believe this is wrong.

The current Army Reserve and guard units typically conduct their training one weekend each month and two weeks each year. For combat and combat support units, the weekend training is usually a waste of time. In my six years as a member of a U.S. Army Reserve military intelligence battalion in the 1980s, we did useful field training on at most a dozen of the more than 60 weekend drills I attended. Even on those occasions, most of the time was spent traveling to and from the training areas. The two weeks' annual training was much more useful, but even that gave us at most a week of field training, since there were several days of preparations for the move to the training site and several more days of equipment cleanup after training.

I believe that reserve and guard combat and combat support units should eliminate the weekend drills and instead have a single, one month annual training (AT). The benefits of this would be to:

Increase the number of effective field training days from seven to 23. This assumes that the number of preparation and cleanup days could be kept the same.

Reduce the effect of personnel turnover. In a 12-man unit, about every four months we lost a person (due to enlistment expiration) and gained a person. There was no way to set up a stable team to build skills because we constantly had to train someone new in the basic tasks. During AT, the teams could be restructured once, at the beginning, and then remain stable through the remaining portion of training.

Reduce the geographic dependence of units. Since unit members must go to weekend drills every month, they must be close enough to the reserve center. With a single AT, even personnel from across the state or country could be flown out and back once a year to the reserve center. (Estimated cost to fly 400,000 reservists at $500 each is $200 million. The cost could be even less if Air Force Reserve units transported the Army reservists--and not every reservist would have to be flown. The cost would also be offset by the lower personnel costs: 30 days' pay instead of the 60 days' pay the typical reservist receives each year.)

Please note that I am not advocating a change to the training for combat service support (maintenance, personnel, and logistics) units. Many of these units are able to conduct meaningful training on weekend drills, since their training does not rely as heavily on being in the field.

--Randy Heath

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