Letters from our readers.
March 12 1999 3:30 AM

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The Academy's Awards


Thanks to Michael Kinsley for buying into our list at the beginning of his recent "Readme." But his later point about "gratuitous meritocracy" did not seem up to his usual level of argument. Of course we evaluate (unscientifically) the merit--the relative merit--of novels, paintings, Dylan songs, New Yorker editors, etc. Could there be art without such evaluations? (This is a philosophical, not an economic, question--and a serious one.) Top 100 lists and Oscars are simply a rather formal, inevitably somewhat pedestrian method of evaluation. Our list certainly has a target or two on it for everyone (including us list makers). Still, I thought the whole thing was worth doing because journalism is rarely compared across decades; because such comparisons make for enlightening discussions (like the one you, all too briefly, embarked upon); because our memory for good journalism tends to be awfully short; because most of the work on our list (like that in item No. 67) deserves to be honored; and because in so doing we hope to inspire more gutsy, eye-opening journalism. Could a similar case be made in support of the Cable Ace Awards? Perhaps. But our list does have the advantage of including Hersey, Carson, Tarbell, Steffens, Murrow, and that Lemann fellow.

--Mitchell Stephens

Chair, Department of Journalism, New York University

New York City


The (Little) Girls' Room

As a female musician, I found the discussion in "The Music Club" on women in rock fascinating. Bill Wyman asserted that Liz Phair is trying to maintain an indie sensibility while flirting with mainstream commercial music. This seems to be a time-honored argument leveled at women from all walks of life. It seems that if a woman shows any duality in her opinions and/or her career endeavors, she is either confused about what she wants (and therefore weak), or she shouldn't be venturing out into the big, bad world of rock 'n' roll. Ooh, too scary!

I find the whole issue of "Women in Rock" a bit off-putting as well. There shouldn't be a delineation between where one creative process ends and another begins. It is a universal language, or should be in an ideal world. I am constantly amazed at the number of people (yeah, they've been men) who have told me that my musical career would be bolstered if I would just be willing to "work the sex angle."



San Diego

Everybody's Got a Hungry Heart

The argument in "A Taste for Self Control" seems really stretched, particularly to anyone who's ever done something like lock his refrigerator (I don't, but I keep it empty for a similar reason). The irrational act isn't "locking the fridge," it's "snacking at midnight"--you gain weight, use up food, and get less sleep. The momentary pleasure isn't remotely worth the drawbacks.

So why do it? Because of an irrational urge to eat, doubtless a holdover from some ancient time when eating whenever possible was a survival trait. As long as you're positing an evolutionary urge with no present-day benefits, why assume the most complicated explanation is correct? Or that people are too stupid to realize what's bad for them?


--Aaron Mandelbaum

Redmond, Wash.

The Ron Around

I note one glaring omission from the "Gipper the Ripper" item in "Chatterbox." Juanita Broaddrick's story arrived in the press after Bill Clinton had established a pattern of behavior toward women and of soon-to-be-inoperative denials. But prior to the Walters accusation in the Kitty Kelley book, no one had ever accused Ronald Reagan of anything remotely approaching the sort of behavior alleged. There was no pattern to match the behavior and, therefore, the press did not pursue it or demand a forceful denial. To add further injury to the premise that the Broaddrick and Walters accusations are "remarkably [a]like," the Broaddrick story was exhaustively researched by NBC News' Washington bureau and its reporter Lisa Myers, whose reputation for honest, nonscandal reporting is unquestioned. The Walters accusation was "reported" by Kitty Kelley (whose reputation for veracity is questionable at best) and People magazine. Not exactly Woodward and Bernstein, is it?


--Robert Laing


Core Values

Jacob Weisberg's "The Best University in America" is in many ways a sophisticated look at the University of Chicago, the best exemplar of American higher education. But it does repeat a few inaccuracies.

The University has only one name, under which it was incorporated in 1890. That is "The University of Chicago." Weisberg may have been misled by a poorly reported story in a local newspaper that confused discussions about the various shorthand versions of our name.

The new curriculum does not dilute the general education Weisberg lauds. It provides a strong foundation in all the large knowledge domains of humankind and in analytic thinking skills, a bit more choice to explore the ideas and fields introduced in students' first two years, and a series of courses taught by full faculty in a small, focused discussion style that has long been Chicago's hallmark. The "core" curriculum will now constitute 15 courses plus a year of foreign language, of the 42 required for graduation. This is three fewer than the 21 required since the latest curriculum revision in 1984, but it also means students will take three more courses in their concentration(s) (or major) or in other areas. Additionally, the curriculum is under constant scrutiny by the faculty, and is revised regularly (typically at intervals of about a decade) in a process that culminates in a vote of the college faculty. Their vote in March 1998, by a 3-to-1 margin, approved the new curriculum.

Education at the University of Chicago will continue to be great fun, in the traditional, Chicago sense in which our students have always found some of life's greatest satisfactions in the enthusiastic, unbridled pursuit of the life of the mind.

--Larry Arbeiter

Director of Communications, the University of Chicago

Brownian Emotion

In "The Best University in America," Jacob Weisberg writes: "Consider Brown, whose undergraduates have a higher average SAT score than those at Chicago, and which gets three times as many applications precisely because it has a reputation for being a blast and lacks any real requirements."

Your one sentence explanation of Brown's attractiveness to prospective students is an insult to Brown alumni and alumnae, to those who have applied to Brown, and to Slate readers who hate seeing arguments built on unsupported stereotypes instead of facts.

--Daniel Flynn, Brown '96