Editor's note: Some of the letters below originally appeared in "The Fray," Slate's reader feedback forum.
Who's Deliriously Mean-Spirited?
Your review of my book Diana in Search of Herself was so confusing that I scarcely know how to respond (see the Sept. 2 "Culturebox" posting). Your writer asserts in the first sentence that it was "deliriously mean-spirited"--a surprising statement, given that reviewers for Time, Newsweek, and the Washington Post among others have remarked on the even-handedness of my book. In fact, Judith Shulevitz is herself "deliriously mean-spirited," and I resent the fact that she relies on material from my book in an effort to make her arguments.
Your writer assesses the book in only one other place, noting that Diana suffered "from what Smith dubiously diagnoses as a borderline personality disorder." The review promptly lists seven psychological problems that plagued Diana, all of which are common in those afflicted with borderline personality disorder. For the record, I used the term as a framework for understanding Diana--in particular how its symptoms interacted to produce the chaotic behavior that so many close to her witnessed over the years. I emphasized that while I couldn't say with certainty that Diana had the disorder, the evidence (as presented throughout the previous 363 pages) was compelling. As it happens, a number of psychiatrists have approached me since the book's publication to say that Diana was a classic borderline.
I suppose that I should be flattered that the three meatiest paragraphs (of five) in the review were drawn entirely from my biography. But as someone who read a vast amount of what had been written about Diana, conducted 150 interviews (many with her intimates), and included 60 pages of detailed footnotes, I find it dismaying that Slate would run such a disingenuous review.
--Sally Bedell Smith
Sucking Up to the Boss
"The Slate 60" always makes for interesting reading; whether or not it really gets anyone to give (besides maybe Bill Gates) is open to question, but I'm sure it can't hurt. At least it's better than trying to rank colleges.
I have a question about that $225 million gift that heads the list, though. As far as I can see, the gift was made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, not the Gateses themselves. Obviously, most (all?) of the foundation's assets have come from the Gateses, and I don't want to diminish the generosity of surrendering $17 billion for the public good. But strictly speaking, there doesn't seem to be any other foundation on The Slate 60 list, nor are Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, or the very living Walter Annenberg listed. (In truth, I don't know how much the Annenberg Foundation gave away last quarter, but let's pro-rate its annual giving and guess that it was around $25 million, based on 1998's figures. Here is the summary if you want to look it up.)
In fact, if I understand the rules, a $17 billion foundation will have to give away roughly $170 million per quarter and, in today's market and economy, ought to have considerably more than that to spend, even after hedging against inflation. Aside from the occasional Ted Turner bombshell, the Gateses seem to have just about guaranteed themselves the top slot on The Slate 60 for the rest of their lives, even if they never give another nickel away.
As I said, I don't want to suggest that Bill Gates isn't a generous person nor even that his giving doesn't represent considerable sacrifice on his part (though it must be nice to be able to give that kind of money away). But as this edition is constituted, it looks an awful lot like sucking up to the boss.
(Of course, if it helps keep you in business, by all means carry on.)
Ann Castle replies:You're right that the head-of-the-list gifts come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The funds in that foundation were given by the donors themselves, so they meet our criteria as gifts from living individual Americans. The Gateses use the foundation as their giving vehicle, as do some others on the list.
You mention Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and Walter Annenberg as examples of foundation founders who are not on the list. Ford and Carnegie are easy to explain--they are no longer living, and we decided to list family foundation gifts only when one of the original donors is still alive.
The Annenbergs--Walter and Leonore--have appeared on the list previously. But, according to a cursory search done today, the Annenberg Foundation announced gifts totaling $1.78 million in July 1999, a total that under our terms would not have met the minimum for the second quarter of 1999. This total was composed of 24 gifts ranging from $40,000 to $150,000.
Our method looks for single large gifts. There's nothing sacred about that technique; others have ranked cumulative giving over a lifetime, etc. We count pledges as well as paid gifts. I look for gifts announced by the donor or the recipient as gifts from individuals--that's why you saw the Rockefeller name appear for the first time on The Slate 60 this quarter. I also search for foundation gifts from individuals and have set an arbitrary minimum of $1 million.
We don't list gifts that we can't verify. A gift was announced earlier this year from James E. Beasley to Temple University Law School as "the largest endowment in the history of [the university]" to the law school, which has been named the James E. Beasley School of Law in his honor. We couldn't verify any amount, so this gift was not included in The Slate 60, although it almost certainly would have qualified.
Some people make all their gifts through their foundations; others do a portion of their philanthropy that way. Some give at a particular time of year; others spread it out. Many of the same people making announced large gifts also give anonymously, and I don't try to ferret those out. Our goal is to celebrate both donors and recipients, so we list gifts as they are made out of a foundation to a separate nonprofit. That's why the Gateses were not credited with the even larger amount that was announced in all the papers: If we recognize them for the $6 billion they put into their foundation, then we can't recognize the organizations that receive that money down the road or we'd be double-counting.
The fact is that the Gateses now have created the largest personal foundation in the United States and will probably continue to make the top or near the top of the list. However, as Jack Shafer noted in his latest introduction, there are plenty of other people out there who could meet and exceed their 1999 running total of $255 million and not even wince.
At Lager Heads
Don't get me wrong. I vastly enjoyed James Fallows' deep, probing piece on blind beer tasting ("Booze You Can Use"). But Fallows does perpetuate a few common mistakes that should be cleared up.
1) "Lagers are the light-colored, relatively lightly flavored brews that make up most of the vattage of beer consumption in the United States."
2) "Sam's success could reflect its quasi-mislabeling, presenting a strong-flavored beer as a 'lager.' "
Both of these statements are incorrect in their definition of "lager." Lager is one of the two main types of beer, the other being ale. Lager beers come in all varieties of flavors, strengths, and colors, from the pale, crisp Pilsener (what most American beers are modeled on, albeit weakly) to thick, deep brown, rich, strong (8.5 percent) "doppelbocks." What defines a beer as lager is its method of fermentation: at cool temperatures, using a specific type of "lager" yeast, with an extended cold maturation period. Ales, on the other hand, tend to experience warm, rapid fermentations.
Sam Adams is a lager beer that happens to be brewed in a slightly fuller-flavored style, something akin (perhaps) to mainstream American beers in the '40s and '50s. But it is as much a lager as any of the other beers in Fallows' tasting.
Author, Best American Beers
Defending the First Boy Scout
Geoffrey Wheatcroft's article "Scouting for Boys" portrays all adult scout leaders as pedophiles who are involved with scouts for nothing more than a steady diet of young boys. How tragic that this is the legacy that our prurient minds attach to one of the finest civic-minded organizations of the century.
I was a Boy Scout throughout my childhood years. I attained the rank of Eagle, and never once did I feel as though I was in danger of being molested, attacked, leered at, or otherwise harassed by an adult leader. The men who were adult leaders while I was a scout were in many ways more influential on my life than my own parents were. To lump these pillars of respectability in my life and in my community with the few bad seeds that slip through the cracks of the organization is a grave disservice to the thousands of men and women who willingly give their evenings, weekends, and dollars to an organization whose core goal is to mold impressionable boys into upstanding, moral men.
In the future, please research a story more before sniggering and laughing at a man in a scout uniform ... he's trying to make his son and boys like his son into better men, something that articles like yours will never do.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa