Letters from our readers.
Jan. 15 1999 3:30 AM

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Go North, Impeachment!


As the author of a book on the politics of the Iran-Contra affair (especially the congressional hearings), I was pleased to see Michael Kinsley's " Lies, Damned Lies, and Impeachment" on impeaching Reagan and Bush. Clearly the issues then were of much greater constitutional import.

Besides quoting Rep. Henry Hyde, you could have also quoted Rep. Bill McCollum and Sen. Orrin Hatch. Hatch told North: "I don't want you prosecuted. I don't. I don't think many people in America do. And I think there's going to be one lot of hell raised if you are." McCollum (now one of the House managers, I believe) told North that he had "served your country admirably" and that he was "a dedicated, patriotic soldier" for whom McCollum and the country was "grateful." These statements were made, of course, after North (under a grant of immunity) proclaimed that he had previously misled and lied to Congress. And, as you point out in your piece, these were issues involving life and death--not only TOWs in Iran but also aid to the guerrilla fighters in Nicaragua, who were regularly implicated in killing peasant villagers and others.

Keep up the good work.

--Amy Fried, author of Muffled Echoes: Oliver North and the Politics of Public Opinion
University of Maine
Orono, Maine


Who's an Artist? Who Cares?

As an artist, I was very pleased to see Jacob Weisberg's review of the current crop of biographies in "Lives of the Artists." His conclusion that the lives of the artists provide little (or no) illumination of their artistic production is entirely accurate. To understand the work, look at the work and understand its aesthetic context. Literary insights are to be found in other writing--criticism, theory, philosophy, art history, and the artist's own writing. Visual creativity is driven by a variety of elements (social, political, cultural, intellectual, theoretical, aesthetic); an artist's physiology, by virtue of idiosyncrasies of the mechanics of vision, has more effect than the artist's psychology on his or her work.

Although the artist's biography may be interesting, and at times inspiring (as is the case with Henri Matisse), it more often than not distracts from the work and leads to the most inane and invalid interpretations. Thanks to Weisberg for addressing this issue and providing the reader with an appropriate perspective!

--Jo Scraba
Brooklyn, N.Y.


Ultra-Fat Cats

Discussing the SAT prep industry article in the New York Times Magazine, the writer of " In Other Magazines" describes rich kids as "overprivileged." "Privilege" itself already suggests to me the sense of overness, if you will. Privilege is above and beyond the normal. Either someone is privileged, or he is not. To use "overprivileged" suggests that while a certain amount of privilege is acceptable, too much privilege is wrong and should be taken away. This seems to me a wholly irrational distinction to make.

--Joel D. Smith

New York City


Tasty Spatulas

In " Do as I Say, Not as I Do," Jeffrey Goldberg alluded to, but didn't quite hit on, the ideal baby toy for the two month to 18 month set, i.e., a spatula. You can buy a darn nice spatula for about $2--wooden with a rubbery blade--and it's easy for kids to grip. It makes no noise when they whack things with it (unlike a wooden spoon), and the blade gives them something to gnaw on, which they find very satisfying, and there's no risk of splinters. It's also quiet when they're in church (hey, I'm from the Midwest, OK?) unlike, say, squeaky toys or a set of car keys. I suppose the only hazard is the noxious chemicals they use to make the blade rubbery, but if you post this in Slate there will undoubtedly be an organic rubber spatula with black-and-white geometric patterns (in soy ink) on a sustainably harvested tropical hardwood (grown by a women's cooperative) handle available soon for $29.95.

Good luck with the squirts. The only other valuable child raising hint I have is to dress the kids in orange shirts when they get mobile, because then they're easy to spot in a crowd (nobody wears orange voluntarily), although if you put this in Slate and everyone does it, it won't work anymore.

--Matthew Cole
Saint Paul, Minn.


"Trial" an Error

About the trial coverage (" Dispatches"): We need to be clear about something. The trial of the president in the Senate will not really be a trial, or at least not a trial that any of us recognize. First, let's set aside any pondering about what the chief justice will or will not do. He can't really do much of anything. On any ruling by the CJ as to admissibility, relevancy, or objections to testimony that the justice may make, the jury (the senators) can overrule him by a simple majority of 51 votes. There are 55 Republican senators, so getting to 51 is not a high hurdle. Second, in any ordinary trial, meetings, conversations, or even deals are not made between the prosecutors and the jury. Here the House team is the prosecution team and the senators the jury. The House team and various senators have been in constant contact, making deals and arrangements. That would be considered jury tampering and would get any other case thrown out of court. In any ordinary trial, the judge sets the rules and the time frame. In this trial, the senators can change the rules from day to day--doing on one day what they would not allow on another. They can decide mid-presentation (if they want to) to permit testimony that was disallowed during the previous presentation. Or mid-witness if it comes to that. Remember it takes only 51 votes to make any decision, and there are 55 Republican senators.

I do not have any confidence that this trial will observe long-established rules of law. The senators have made it plain, to anyone who is listening closely to their "Senatespeak," that they will do it their way.

--Lois Erwin
Waldwick, N.J.