Letters from our readers.
July 10 1998 3:30 AM

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Lighten Up on Linda

In her July 6 entry in the dialogue "Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious," Margaret Carlson writes, concerning Linda Tripp, "I have to stick by my observation that people, for better or for worse, grow into their appearance, coming to look on the outside as they feel on the inside."

Imagine if Rush Limbaugh said something like that regarding, say, Hillary?

--Jim Howard


Tripp Trapped

It seems that most people view Linda Tripp (Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious) as some kind of wicked stepmother, and that is unfortunate. Tripp is justified in worrying that her job and reputation were being threatened after Clinton's lawyer identified her as someone who is "not to be believed." It would be very easy for me to say, piously, that I would have sacrificed my job rather than make the recordings, but I am a single 24-year-old without children, and I can afford to take a more principled stance. Tripp has not only herself to think about when it comes to protecting her job and reputation, but also the well-being of her children and her ability to support them. What would people think of a mother who sacrificed her own children in order to protect the president and Monica?

--Damian M. Schloming

Taping for Trouble


Please ask Jonah Goldberg (Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious) to explain why he thinks, if all Tripp wanted to do was to protect her good name, she continued to tape Lewinsky long after she would have had enough "evidence" for this purpose. As Carlson says, "A 'seeker of the truth,' as Tripp refers to herself, might at best need to tape one conversation and hold it in reserve for that dark moment when her veracity was challenged. Instead, she taped 20 hours' worth and offered them up gratuitously, to get the ball, which wasn't moving much, rolling."

Why, Jonah?

--Angus Maitland

Yates? Yikes!


As one of the constituents of Sidney Yates, the topic of Jacob Weisberg's July 2 "Strange Bedfellow," I can tell you that he has been a distant and ineffective congressman for decades. I say this despite the fact that I agree with Yates on most political issues. Not surprisingly, Weisberg admits his personal relationships with Yates and his staff.

Yates has done little for the economic development of our district. While I admire his championship of the arts and the environment, these do little concrete for the vast majority of constituents. Yates is the only congressman in the Illinois delegation who refuses to set up an e-mail link for constituents. How does this sit with a Microsoft enterprise? Yates refused to step aside when he became obviously physically infirm. He misses more votes than all but a handful of congressmen.

Yates maintains little contact with his district and made only token campaign appearances. He refused to debate his campaign opponents. Emperor Sid treated those Democrats who dared to oppose him as traitors and thought of himself as congressman by divine right.

Our district will now be vastly better off by his replacement by a person 45 years his junior. Yates has personally enriched himself at the expense of his constituents and his retirement is welcome to many.


Ironically, one of the biggest news splashes made by Yates in the last decade was when one of his staffers invoked Sid's clout and attempted to set up dog-walking runs in Rock Creek Park. When this hit the newspapers, out-of-touch Sid denied any knowledge of the aide's activities. What an embarrassment.

--Thomas A. Marshall

Phenomenology of Spirits

As a member of that clandestine group of German wine lovers that Fareed Zakaria describes in his June 30 "Wine's World," I feel obliged to clarify the place in the pantheon of winedom of one of the figures mentioned in Zakaria's hymn.

I speak, of course, of Hegel. Whatever the merits of the rather severe idiom in which Hegel chose to couch his ideas, he was nonetheless a member in good standing in the wine lovers' circle. He grew up in a wine drinking area (Württemberg), and he did a stint as a house tutor at Frankfurt's most distinguished wine merchant. In fact, in an effort to lure him into taking the job, his friend Hölderlin even promised him, "you will drink very good Rhine wine or French wine at the table." When he was writing his Phenomenology of Spirit, despite his very meager income at the time, he was ordering shipments of Médoc and Pontak (Haut-Brion). (See where his priorities lay.) When he became famous in Berlin, his tastes shifted slightly to Mosels (loved them), Rhine wines, and Cahors (lots of it). He especially loved the 1811 vintage of "comet" wines, and he and Schleiermacher even stopped quarreling for a while after Schleiermacher gave Hegel the address of a good Bordeaux merchant!

Worldly in his heart, he was also not averse to the Italians, drinking and praising "Lacrima Christi" (red) as he was writing a Latin oration on the Augsburg Confession. When he was visiting Saxon Dresden at the height of the Prussian reaction in the 1820s, he surprised his students sitting at the table with him by ordering the most expensive champagne in Europe, Château Sillery. With none of the students quite understanding just what called for such a lavish outlay on the old fellow's part, he astonished them even more by raising his glass and toasting July 14 and the storming of the Bastille. So on July 14, instead of champagne, a crisp Riesling might be the way for us German wine lovers to toast that venerated French holiday. We can celebrate Hegel and the revolution at the same time. And indulge our secret taste.

--Terry PinkardProfessor of philosophyGeorgetown UniversityWashington

Bedrock Blues

As much as I enjoy Scott Shuger's daily analysis of "Today's Papers," from time to time he gets the facts just plain wrong. Usually it's in the last paragraph, and it's usually some flippant remark that would be witty if it were only true.

In the July 2 Today's Papers, Shuger wrote:

[Clinton] told families there that home ownership is an investment in society, the bedrock of middle-class life. Wonder if the Times had trouble resisting the observation that it's an investment Clinton's never made, a bedrock he's never stood on.

I quote from Page 151 of Meredith Oakley's biography On the Make: The Rise of Bill Clinton:

Hillary, three months shy of her twenty-eighth birthday, returned to Fayetteville ... inclined to accept the twenty-nine-year-old Clinton's marriage proposal. Any remaining reluctance was dashed when he greeted her return with the news that he had purchased a small brick and stonework house she had admired.

This oft-reported account of Clinton's marriage proposal is well known. Too bad Shuger felt the need to be witty--but wrong. Guess he was just following Clinton's Fifth Law of Politics (Page 146)--"Under enough pressure, most people--but not everybody--will stretch the truth on you."

--Kari ChisholmPortland, Ore.

The Delicate Art of Profanity

I was just reading this fascinating and well-written article ("Flame Posies," July 3) about the New York Times and the Washington Post and admiring the balls of a publication that ran the headline "Who gives a f*** about the yen?" last week and had already used the phrase "holy shit" upward of five times in the opening paragraphs, when I happened upon this sentence: "Later that year, the paper spread its legs for the theory that TWA Flight 800 was downed by foul play, based on the discovery of 'PETN' residues in the wreckage."

I am, personally, a big fan of the well-chosen off-color remark. "Screw you," "kiss my ass," "fuck me"--these are all phrases that have levels of meaning that have nothing to do with the physical acts they describe. (See Donnie Brasco and "fuggedaboudit.") I have recently deliberately begun to use variations of "kick ass" and "bites X in the ass" because they are colorful, evocative phrases; because, thanks to South Park, ass references are newly familiar and hilarious and because they don't evoke particularly vivid mental images of asses any longer. Or at least, less than they used to.

What I am very gently trying to get at is: I don't think the phrase "spread its legs" has quite entered the off-color oversoul. I think, like "up the ass," it is just a smidgen too vivid for the average reader. (Then again, we have seen the rise of "suck" in its many forms, so perhaps I'll be proved wrong.) So when you write "spreads its legs," that's exactly what I think of, and for me, there is something inherently unpleasant in having my gender's chief sexual activity thrown up on the electronic page as an analogy for submissiveness. Human reproduction pretty much hinges on leg-spreading and, hence, one would think this act would be synonymous with ... well, something better than the Times being sluttishly seduced into an ill-supported TWA theory.

Bottom line: You don't have so much as a Saturday Night Live sketch to point to as an example of how the phrase "spread its legs" has become so prevalent as to have mostly lost its primary meaning; I think sex deserves better than to be compared to bad reporting and I'm not especially keen on seeing my gender's role during sex interpreted as one of whorish submission.

--Kate Powers

School Principles

David Brooks chides Bill McKibben in the July 1 "Breakfast Table" for having one child, arguing that it is "symbolic politics taken to an extreme." If only one couple does it, it will have little effect on the situation. "Maybe if everybody followed McKibben's lead it would [make a difference]." In the next paragraph, he says it's OK for Bill and Hillary Clinton to send their kid to a private school while opposing school choice because you should be able to rise above principle to send your kids to private school.

Am I the only one who notices the faulty logic? The problem is that the Clintons aren't an isolated example. Many of the opponents of school choice send their kids to private school, even while professing steadfast belief in public schools. This is like McKibben having 10 children, making his wife/significant other take fertility drugs, and then telling everyone we are running out of resources and everyone else should have one child.

If there were only one white, affluent couple sending its child to private schools while decrying school choice for others, that would be one thing. For an entire political class to engage in this behavior is a national disaster. Perhaps that is why (as Brooks says) public schools are crappy in three-fourths of the country.

--Bill JonesPasadena, Calif.

The AFI Cannon

I followed Charles Paul Freund's argument in the July 1 "High Concept" about the AFI 100 greatest films list and the decline of cultural gatekeeping right up to the point when he began discussing the actual movies on the list. But his offhand comment that Bonnie and Clyde "presents criminality in soft focus" is so off-the-beam it taints his entire analysis. Exactly what is "soft focus" about the bank teller who gets shot full in the face or Gene Hackman's agonizing death throes or Bonnie and Clyde's final, staccato "dance of death"?

Freund's take on the Godfather pictures as a "daydream of limitless wealth and power" is even loonier. Has he even seen The Godfather Part II, which charts the complete moral decay of Pacino's Michael in minute psychological detail? Freund is right that in many ways the Godfather pictures (especially Part II) are the opposite of the traditional gangster movie, but he's precisely wrong in his reasons why. In fact, it's the older gangster pictures that romanticize the charismatic crooks portrayed by Bogart, Cagney, Robinson, et al. There's nothing romantic about the criminal violence depicted in the Godfather movies or the way the blood seems to drain out of Pacino's character over the course of the epic.

Given the volumes that have been written about these movies, Freund's blatant misreadings are stupefying. Maybe a little more cultural gatekeeping on the part of Slate editors is in order.

--Steve WarrickPleasant Hill, Calif.

The Dirt on White Boards

Regarding the June 29 "Millionerds" column on white boards, Michael Lewis writes, "But I have now seen many hundreds of these boards, bearing the remnants of some recent group meeting, and I cannot recall ever seeing anything on them remotely resembling a thought."

Have you now? Have you ever been part of a team developing a OO plan for a software project? Have you ever diagramed a relational database for a critique from your colleagues? Most of the white boards you've seen were spied while you were escorted about by PR flacks or techs and suits on a PR mission. They were all sort of nervous because you're a celebrity writer. They gave you free meals. Am I right so far?

You've never seen a white board used in real technical development, have you? You don't really know what you're talking about, do you? The fact that what you've just written--and much of what you've written before--is untrue doesn't bother you because it's all in fun, right? And not really important, true? Just to amuse, you see. You're a stylist.

--Mitchell Coffey

So ... What?

Regarding Michael Lewis' comments in "Millionerds" about programmers' use of "so": It's a California programmer thing, not a programmer thing. I work in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., (about 150 miles south of Chicago, 120 miles west of Indianapolis, home of the University of Illinois) and no professional programmer I know has this verbal mannerism.

My personal opinion would be that people give so many technical presentations in formal and informal settings, where every other sentence or clause starts with "so"--"so then the frob bit is set, so this path is followed, so no data hits the wire"--that they just "get in the habit" of prefacing everything with "so."

--Alan M. CarrollCisco Systems

Working Words

Although Jason Turner's remark, discussed in the June 29 "Chatterbox," may have been unintentional in its reference to the "welcome sign" over Auschwitz's main gate, his attitude remains the same: forced labor without hope for education, decent child care, or a better future. I'm not Jewish or German, but I immediately recognized the infamous quote.

I believe a Haitian proverb properly sums up the entire work/welfare debate: "If work were good for you, the rich would leave none for the poor."


--Max E. Hughey Jr.San Diego

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