Letters from our readers.
Sept. 18 1998 3:30 AM

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A Few More Minutes of Depression

Regarding Michael Kinsley's "Readme" about the Internet and its links to depression: Maybe people who use the Internet a lot get depressed because the Internet is just more interesting than their regular lives. They meet people who share their preoccupations, quirks, sense of humor, and sexual fantasies, people who like to argue about politics and religion (still taboo subjects in much of real-life America), who are experts in fascinating subjects, and who like to explain them. They can take on a pseudonym and express parts of themselves that they have to repress in their ordinary lives. They can play bridge and chess and mental footsie with people in Russia and Japan. Then they come back to real life, and the contrast makes them feel bad. Same old, same old.

Don't forget--the subjects of the Internet depression study lived in Pittsburgh. They may already have been anxious, bored, dissatisfied with their lives. But they thought that was just the way life was, so when social scientists asked if they were happy, they said, "Sure." After a year on the Net, they know it doesn't have to be that way--but they're still living in Pittsburgh.

--Katha PollittNew York City


The IRS Has Been Berry, Berry Good to Me

In the Sept. 9 "Today's Papers," Scott Shuger had this little tidbit:

The one problem with all this: Despite the apparent oddity of the home run ball case, not one of these horrified public servants has shown why it isn't a perfectly straightforward application of the gift tax. So shouldn't they rethink the whole idea?

Actually, I think it is a straightforward application of the tax code not to tax the gift of the ball, since there is no income to the person giving the ball away. Since the person who caught the ball gave nothing to receive the ball and received nothing in return, even if the ball has some inherent value of $1,000,000, there is no "realizing event" that would trigger taxation. People are only taxed on income that is actually received, otherwise you would pay income tax on the increased value of your home every year (you only pay when you sell).


A rough analogy: Suppose Mark McGwire threw a blank check for $1,000,000 into the crowd. If I caught it, returned it, and received nothing in return, I have nothing to tax. If I fill in my name and cash it, I pay tax. If I fill in the name of my best friend and he cashes it, he pays income tax, and the person who signed the check (not me, since I am simply the conduit and never received any benefit) pays gift tax.

In short, this should not lead us to revisit the idea of a gift tax. The "IRS spokesman" quoted by the AP story simply misstated the law. There is no reason to change the law, Shuger's evident wish to do so aside.

--Michael CarrWashington

Plugging Leaks

I enjoy Slate's humor, but I just finished reading the "leaked" Starr report ("Starr Lush," by Art Levine) and found it amazingly stupid and insulting. Yes, the Lewinsky affair deserves ridicule in many ways, but I can get lurid guesses about the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship anywhere. From Slate I expect and am paying for serious attempts to assess what happened and what the consequences might be. Leave the idiotic romance novel accounts to others.

--Greg WeeksCarrboro, N.C.

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