Letters from our readers.
Jan. 2 1999 3:30 AM

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Triple Threats


Re Timothy Noah's "Chatterbox" item "William Jefferson Clinton": Joel Achenbach explained the three name serial killer phenomenon in a column included in his book Why Things Are. Newspapers use all three names for such people to minimize the number of people with similar names mistakenly thought by distant cousins, high-school sweethearts, and potential employers to be murderers (and to minimize possible lawsuits from the John Kennedy Gacys and Karla Onderdunk Tuckers of the world). Of course, it's hard to imagine anyone making that mistake in Clinton's case--"Honey, is that guy they're impeaching the same Bill Clinton who used to sell tires over at Pep Boys?" So you are correct to say the three-namedness is rather unnecessary here.

--Randolph B. Cohen

Cambridge, Mass.

Time Is What's Heavy

Atul Gawande throws out some interesting hypotheses about the link between obesity and poverty in his article "Why Money Won't Buy Fat." Here's another: Perhaps the future is more valuable to rich people than to poor people. Every time someone eats a piece of cake (or smokes a cigarette), they are implicitly trading "future life minutes" for current sensual pleasures. If we assume that almost everyone derives the same amount of pleasure from a given piece of cake, then the amount of cake you will eat depends upon how much "utility" you assign to your life in the future. Rich people may be happier overall and may therefore attribute more value to the "future life minutes" that they would be giving up by eating that cake. This would cause millionaires to eat less cake (and to quit smoking and to exercise more).


--Tim DeRoche

San Francisco

The Real Skinny on Being Fat

Re Atul Gawande's article "Why Money Won't Buy Fat": Has Dr. Gawande never shopped for groceries? Fifteen minutes in a grocery store tells the tale. Healthy eating is expensive.

--Cheryl Kimball

Middleton, N.H.


10,000 Ways To Say "I Cheated on You"

I liked Michael Kinsley's article "Lies, Damned Lies, and Impeachment." Here's a political glossary that might be helpful in interpreting future lies.

"Indiscretion": Adultery.

"Prior indiscretion(s)": Adultery.


"Youthful indiscretion(s)": Adultery.

"Private matters": Adultery.

"Deeply private matter": Adultery.

"Zone of privacy": Adultery.


"Private lives of public figures": Adultery.

"Prior misjudgment(s)": Adultery.

"My poor judgment": Adultery.

"Inappropriate relationship": Adultery.

"Inappropriate behavior": Adultery.

"Not sex": Adultery.

"Not relations": Adultery.

"Strayed from my vows": Adultery.

"This poor sinner": Adultery.

"I'm no saint": Adultery.

"What I did was wrong": Adultery.

"Pain in my marriage": Adultery.

"Between me and my wife": Adultery.

"It gets lonely in Washington": Adultery.

"Power is an aphrodisiac": Adultery.

"It's none of your business": Adultery.

--Tom Mashberg


Lies Are Lies Are Lies

Re Michael Kinsley's article "Lies, Damned Lies, and Impeachment": If you want a starker example of Republican lying, what about Clarence Thomas? Yes, I know that there is no definite proof that Justice Thomas lied under oath to the Senate subcommittee when he said that Anita Hill's allegations were false, but if the Republican House believes that felony perjury is impeachable, aren't they obliged to thoroughly investigate the possibility that Thomas lied?

--Srinivasan Sethuraman

Princeton, N.J.

Guilty Is Guilty Is Guilty

Michael Kinsley's article "Lies, Damned Lies, and Impeachment" seems to argue that if one criminal "gets away with it," then all criminals should be able to do likewise. That hardly seems defensible.

The only valid argument is that you don't believe Clinton actually broke the law. If you believe that he broke the law, then he must be held accountable. Whether that's now or after his term is over I suppose could be up for discussion, although it's hard for me to believe that any rational person could believe that in the current atmosphere Clinton will be able to be an effective president (regardless of who is to blame).

--Gregg Tavares


The Greatest President Since Nixon

More and more--and particularly in Michael Kinsley's article "Lies, Damned Lies, and Impeachment"--I notice that the main line of defense for the president is to compare him to people who might be worse. This usually means members of the opposing party. Isn't there any argument to be made that originates in some redeeming value of the president?

--Ronald Keller

St. Albans, W.V.

Laughing All the Way to Court

As a sometimes evidence teacher, I read Bruce Gottlieb's item "How Blind Must Justice Be?" with interest. He states, "If by laughing [the] audience intended to say 'we don't believe you,' it is hearsay and therefore inadmissible." This is wrong both as a statement of the hearsay rule and as a prediction of the likely outcome in this case.

First, the rule: A large amount--probably most--of hearsay is admissible. That's because the Federal Rules of Evidence (which apply at the Microsoft trial) contain 30 exceptions to the hearsay rule, some of them gaping. For example, Rule 807, the so-called "catch-all exception," permits hearsay to be admitted if it is the best available evidence of a material fact and "the interests of justice will best be served by [its] admission"--a big window!

Now, application of rule to facts: If the question posed ever came up, I am sure the evidence would be admitted, under Rule 807. That's because the danger that the out-of-court statement is a lie (the primary danger against which the hearsay rule protects) is negligible when it is the simultaneous statement of hundreds of people. This is what my evidence professor, Kenneth Graham, referred to as "Surreptitious Principle No. 1." A little bit of hearsay is bad, but a whole lot of it is good!

--Fred Bernstein

New York City