Letters from our readers.
Sept. 11 1998 3:30 AM

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Multiple Thumbs Down

Jacob Weisberg further damages his case in his reply to my recent letter to the editor. Responding to my suggestions that he uses selective quotation and inadequate research, he writes, "Siskel gave Armageddon a 'thumbs up' and named it his 'flick of the week' on Sneak Previews."

Siskel did indeed give the film a "marginal thumbs up"--hardly "cringe-making praise." Otherwise, Weisberg's sloppy homework is again on display. Siskel named it his "Flick of the Week" not on television but in the Chicago Tribune, where he reviews one film a week at length. (Siskel's review is here.) If Weisberg had clicked on a couple of samples, he would have learned that the "Flick of the Week" is not an endorsement and can be a positive or a negative review; the current "Flick of the Week" gets only two stars. We have not appeared on a program named Sneak Previews since 1982, which may offer a clue as to how carefully Weisberg watches Siskel & Ebert while forming his opinions.

I note he does not reply to my observation that most of the critics he mentions have given negative reviews to most of the films he says we praised.


--Roger EbertChicago Sun-TimesChicago

Awww, Shucks

In "Flytrap's Trashy Books," David Plotz says William Bennett is guilty of false modesty. This called to mind a remark of the English playwright Alan Bennett (no relation, I think): "All modesty is false. Otherwise it's not modesty."

--Adam LiptakNew York City


A Job Well Done Is Its Own Reward

In "Privatize the Independent Counsel!" Steven E. Landsburg suggests, somewhat tongue in cheek, that we allow the president of the United States, after he leaves office, "to sell 10,000 U.S. citizenships to the bidders of his choice. ... If he does a better job, those citizenships will become more valuable, and he'll get a better price for them."

This, he contends, will encourage the president to do a good job.

Earlier in the column, however, he exposes the flaw in this idea. Landsburg notes, "What if he [the president] keeps us out of war through policies that make the world more dangerous for our children?"


Indeed, what if the president makes the world (including the United States) a more dangerous place, but the United States remains a safer place relative to the rest of the world? Even though the United States would be safer than other places, and thus U.S. citizenship would be more valuable, it would still be, in absolute terms, more dangerous than it was.

Really, we already reward the president for doing a good job--we reserve a place for him in history. Presidents who do a good job are remembered favorably; those who do not are not. This is not always true, of course. Sometimes when a president does a terrible job we just name an airport after him.

--Rich GoldbergSilver Spring, Md.

Steven E. Landsburg responds:


Touché, Mr. Goldberg. The plan I proposed not only gives the president an incentive to make the United States better, it also gives him an incentive to make the rest of the world worse. So I should not have proposed it. After all, we wouldn't want to deter future presidents from emulating great achievements like, say, freeing Europe from Communism.

Flytrap Claptrap

After a promising beginning, Slate has degenerated into a ridiculous mess of sixthhand rehashing of the Lewinsky scandal. It has been weeks since I've seen a substantive and interesting article posted. How about stopping publishing so much of this drivel and hiring people to write intelligent, interesting work on some (any!) other topic?

If Slate continues in anything like its present form, I certainly won't be renewing my subscription. You'll continue to have an audience of Clinton-hating Lewinsky junkies, but as years go on I don't think this is a viable business model.

--Peter WoitNew York City

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