Letters from our readers.
Nov. 6 1998 3:30 AM

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Extramarital Chatter

Not only did Timothy Noah's Nov. 2 "Chatterbox" contain major factual errors, the comparisons it drew between the present-day situation and that of Thomas Jefferson is very disheartening. There are fewer similarities than this rush to analyze and spin realizes.

Most glaring was Noah's statement regarding the basis for his conclusion. "Chatterbox bases this on the confirmation of his extramarital affair with Sally Hemings." This was not an extramarital affair under any circumstances. Jefferson's wife, Martha, was deceased. This makes "extramarital" very difficult. In addition, Hemings was the half-sister of Jefferson's wife. Jefferson and Hemings engaged in a long-term, and perhaps monogamous, relationship for almost 30 years! She even accompanied him during his tenure in France. Where is the correlation to our modern day president?

I find it easier to understand Noah's claims of Jeffersonian hypocrisy. However, even a minute understanding of Jeffersonian history would inform Noah that scholars for decades have considered the inconsistencies among Jefferson's statements and actions a hot topic for study.


Your inaccurate presentation of history is dangerous. Slow down, take a deep breath, and be careful if you plan to play historian.

--David Starmer

Charlottesville, Va.

Timothy Noah replies: Mr. Starmer is right. I am wrong. The item has been corrected.


Connector Pork

In "Foghorn Leghorn Meets an Owl," David Plotz states, "Inglis is so principled, in fact, that he votes against funding pork projects in his own district. In one famous case, Inglis helped kill federal funding for a needed highway, requiring the state to build a toll road instead. He has not been forgiven."

I have certainly forgiven Bob Inglis. I'm a native New Yorker who relocated to Greenville, S.C., 10 years ago. In the eyes of my conservative neighbors I am a liberal--I consistently vote Democratic and will probably vote for Fritz Hollings. The one thing that inclines me to vote for Inglis is his attempts to kill the Southern Connector (the "needed highway" of Plotz's example).

If there ever was a highway project that could be defined as pork, it's the Southern Connector. It's a highway connecting two areas already well connected to the Interstate Highway System, and will only benefit people traveling from the area southwest of Greenville to the area southeast of Greenville, and vice versa. Those two areas are already connected by I-85 and I-385. It seems to me an unnecessary expense to spend many millions of dollars to reduce a few people's travel time by five minutes. The only people in Greenville who support the Southern Connector are the highway contractors who will benefit financially from the project.


While I disagree with Inglis' social agenda, I must admit it's nice to have a representative who recognizes that there is no such thing as good pork.

--Al Vyssotsky

Greenville, S.C.

The King and Microsoft


It might be useful to your readers of the Nov. 2 "Explainer" to know the reason that "actions in equity" don't get a jury trial. Cases in chancery or equity were/are different from suits brought under the law. In a lawsuit, you are relying on established rights that the king had laid down; the jurors used to be 12 men from the community who were "familiar" with the subject and who, when shown or told what the statute said, could make a fair decision and resolve the controversy. Chancery matters were more like personal problems taken up before the king or his chancellor (chief-of-staff-type guy). In these cases, you were asking the king for a specific, particularized kind of help (a divorce, apportionment of an estate, etc.), and the king's ruling was more narrowly applied to you. So, for example, in this case, the government's lawyers want the chancellor/judge to enjoin or forbid certain Microsoft practices or conduct. You can't point to a bright-line rule to make the decision; rather, the judge is asked to weigh the equities and say, "This or that doesn't seem fair to me, and so I order you to do differently." In law, you say, "The contract/statute/what-have-you says your remedy is X." In chancery, you say, "This seems about right to me."

--Dianne Carr

Gloucester, Va.

Good Lord!

Regarding the Oct. 29 "Today's Papers," I'm afraid you misunderstand how the British legal system operates. The appeal is not to the House of Lords, with its mixture of hereditary and appointed-for-life peers (the hereditary part is soon to be swept away by New Labor). The appeal goes to the law lords who sit in the House of Lords. They are our equivalent of the Supreme Court and are made up of the country's most distinguished judges. Their average age is similar to the Supreme Court justices' (which makes them relatively "aging," as you would expect), but it is a mistake to think they are necessarily "conservative." In fact, they are pretty liberal these days--though it does not follow that Pinochet will lose the appeal.

--Andrew Neil

Editor in chief, the European, the Scotsman, and Sunday Business


Blue Peter Is Big

Reading the Alan Brinkley-Sarah Lyall "Breakfast Table" on the subject of British press provincialism, I was horrified to see your American correspondents describe a Blue Peter presenter (recently fired for snorting coke) as a "minor celebrity." Excuse me. A Blue Peter presenter is not a minor celebrity. Blue Peter is huge. Damn near every English person between the ages of six and 10 watches that show every week! A Blue Peter presenter is England's Judy Garland, England's Ron Howard--all six Brady kids rolled into one! It's a deeply lodged part of the national psyche, and the repository of all manner of naughty pre-adolescent longings! Twenty years on, I can still recite verbatim an ingeniously laconic love poem sent to a Blue Peter presenter of my youth: "Lesley Judd is really fantastic,/ Doing her nut with sticky-back plastic." (You had to have been there, I guess.) In short, I doubt many foreigners have heard of Mr. Rogers, but if he were caught snorting coke, I rather think it would be considered news.

--Larissa MacFarquhar


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