Letters to the Editor

Should Warren Beatty be our next president? Plus: Savaging E.B. White; ascent from a Windows hell.


Letters to the Editor
September 9, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Run Warren run
BY DAVID TALBOT
(09/02/99)

As one living beyond your borders and watching with horror as your
political race, with its inevitable global influence, lurches forward, I
too take pleasure in the fantasy of Warren Beatty as president. He has
worn his politics on his sleeve since the '60s and has shown a more
useful position than any other actor ever did. As you say, the issues that concern Warren are the issues that matter to your country.

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But you seem unable to see through your own "Bulworth" references to
realize that all that awaits Warren in the political arena is
assassination -- perhaps not by a sniper, like in the movie, but certainly
by the scandalmongers. And chances are that Warren, human being that he is, has plenty of skeletons. I rather doubt that in 300 years the United States has matured enough to handle the lifestyle of a
person like Beatty. And I am sure that Beatty is much too wise to put his best part into the bear trap of
media madness, much less allow this family to be sullied by it.

Perhaps we should be content to let Beatty remind us of the core issues
through his art, rather than have him waste away fighting the lethargy and
ingrained corpulence of an institution that does not want to change and
has the power to refuse to do so.

-- Lloyd Chesley

I'm perplexed. All this Warren Beatty hoopla rests on one crucial inherent
assumption: that the man could actually set the political process on fire.
Even David Talbot's gotten caught up in the excitement: "He could be the
one to light a spark in this otherwise somnolent election year," he writes.

Spark! Has anyone caught this man on a talk show? The tin
woodsman was less stiff before Dorothy found the oil can. Warren Beatty
might be the lone man in American capable of making Al and Bill look
inspiring; maybe that could be his contribution to the Democratic Party.

Just because Warren radiates charisma as an actor doesn't necessarily translate into charisma as a human being. The progression might seem natural, but how on earth do you explain the wooden interviews? Boring, frustrating, downright incoherent. I've been a longtime fan of Beatty's career, and tend to lean toward his politics, but just watching his chat-show hosts squirm has been too much to bear. It wasn't his politics that bothered them, but his painfully awkward ineptitude expressing himself. If he can't maintain lukewarm interest describing a glamorous Hollywood remake, how the hell is he going to thread the fine line between First Amendment protections and the insidious threat soft money poses to the electoral process without inducing a simultaneous national coma? I've watched at least half a dozen interviews since he abandoned self-imposed exile in 1994, and experienced identical reactions every time: What a brilliant move it was to keep his mouth shut all those years!

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Has anyone taken notice of Warren's box-office performance since he abandoned his
multi-decade seclusion? His dramatic return to the chat circuit in 1994
was to promote "Love Affair" -- his biggest bomb since "Ishtar." He
redoubled his efforts for "Bulworth," which again underwhelmed expectations. Of course
other factors were in play, but his big return to the little screen
certainly didn't turn anyone on to his movies. Why would it excite us over
a much less glamorous campaign?

-- Dave Cullen

Your article keeps referring to the special interests that control George W.
Bush's campaign (Gore's also). I agree that the United States could use some
significant campaign finance reform, especially on soft money, which has no
limits. But please keep in mind that the $50 million George W. has raised is
"hard" money, given in amounts of $1,000 or less. His report shows over
180,000 contributors. That averages $277.77 per gift. This is hardly the
stuff of big money, special-interest groups. This is the American public
speaking with a clear voice that they want to make sure that the eight years of
Democrats are finished.

I'll support closing the soft-money loophole that both Democrats and Republicans have abused. But don't confuse this with the individual gifts of American citizens supporting the candidate of
their choice.

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-- Charles L. Mortimer

Jackson, Miss.

An outsider isn't a bad idea, but I think Salon has fingered the wrong media
star. The only figure in the entertainment industry who has what it takes to
be a remarkable president is Oprah Winfrey. Can you think of anyone else
with more common sense, more dignity, more humor, more intelligence?
Besides, when it comes to a showdown between the executive and legislative, is
there anyone we'd rather have in the ring than Oprah shaking down those
ego-puffing boys?

-- Rebecca Bryant

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Doesn't anyone notice
the staggering hypocrisy of a multimillionaire Hollywood celebrity, who's
spent decades eating rubber chicken at countless Democratic fund-raisers
that you and I couldn't afford to attend even if we had wanted, whining about
how big-money controls politics!? The pundits, Talbot included, don't seem
to realize that as far as Americans are concerned, Beatty IS big money.

What Beatty seems to be complaining about is that so many other
nouveau riche have money and access to politicians these days that it's
cutting into his own territory. For the vast majority of us, money is
money, whether it comes from tobacco companies or movie companies. The
people who have it talk, while the rest of us are forced to listen to their
self-important drivel.

-- Paul McCudden

Los Angeles

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Polite literature


BY GEORGE RAFAEL

(09/02/99)

Apparently, George Rafael's goal in writing is to pack purple prose,
parentheticals, quotations and people's names into long strings of
verb-less sentence fragments until he overwhelms his readers into
believing that the result must be good, since it consists of so many
words. Overwritten prose that must be plowed through to be
understood isn't good writing, no matter how stylish Rafael may
believe it to be.

Readers looking for a shining example of writing as an extension of
thought, writing within a moral framework, and writing as "an
intimate and almost involuntary expression of the personality of the
writer" will find one of the best examples in English in White's
"Charlotte's Web."

-- Catherine Frey Murphy

Earlville, N.Y.

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A quick perusal of "The Elements of Style" might have improved George
Rafael's attack on E.B. White. Reminder No. 4 in the last chapter comes to
mind: "Write with nouns and verbs." I waited patiently for a verb to
appear in Rafael's endless succession of non-sentences. This isn't
some prissy point of grammar or style; precisely like George Orwell,
White's great moral power arises from the connection he drew between
clear writing and clear thought. Rafael's laundry-list style betrays
not only lazy writing, but lazy thinking.

White's prose is too austere for Rafael. So what? This is
like condemning Pete Seeger because he isn't James Brown. Readers will savor White's
elegant, thoughtful writing centuries after your reviewers'
forgettable prose has slipped, unnoticed, into the dustbin.

-- Parker Barss Donham

Kempt Head, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

I, like everyone else in my high school composition classes, particularly those of us with experimental writing agendas, loathed "Elements of Style" -- and the instructor who practically batted us over the head with them. Of course, that woman and her ancient book, though we despised them at the time, were indispensible components of our growth as writers. In the windy whole of his article, Rafael is incapable of emerging from his bias long enough to call the book what it actually is -- a guide.

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Rafael writes, "If I am harsh it is because this book has had an influence far out of proportion to its actual merit. It is taught as gospel truth, seen as the last word." Oh? As a working writer for 15 years, I am unaware of this perception. The teacher who batted me over the head with "Elements of Style" probably felt the book was gospel, but I like to think that as a creative thinker, I can make decisions about how much value to place on the little book, despite hysterical support or condemnation of it.

"What White doesn't allow is that nice, polite words can fail us in dark times, in murky situations." And the Chicago Manual of Style does allow this? C'mon -- Rafael writes as if "Elements of Style" -- not White -- exists in a vacuum. One reading of Maldoror, or Baudelaire's prose poems, puts the lie to about 80 percent of the little book. Does that invalidate its worth as a road map to clean writing? I don't think so. I'll go to literature to quench my thirst for expressions of dark times and murky situations. Anyone who pretends to understand the stylistic elements of such expressions and is audacious enough to write a style guide to explain them is -- in all likelihood -- a fool.

Next time, Rafael and his editors might try to say what they really mean: "We just don't like E.B. White." I'd have less mud to wade through.

-- H. Andrew Lynch

San Francisco

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Boy am I stupid. I had no idea "Elements of Style" was "thoughtless," that it took no effort to follow its guidelines, that no passion or moral gravity might be expressed except by opting out of its "pallid" manner. Also, I had no idea that McPhee, Maxwell, Taylor and O'Hara were such terrible writers.

Hey, George, different writers speak to us in their own way. Each chooses his own style. One is not necessarily "better" than another. White's book should more properly have been called "Elements of a Style," so that you wouldn't be so upset that he was so unlike you, that he apparently lacked that fearless, full-blooded, testosterone-charged recklessness that the really good writers flaunt. He probably didn't like bullfights, either.

-- Patrick A. Long

The clothed city
BY CHARLES TAYLOR
(09/02/99)

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In "The Clothed City," Charles Taylor misreads E.B. White. He makes some
valid points -- the stereotype of the "cheerful Negro" is certainly
offensive -- but his main gripe with White seems to be the author's style. If
Taylor has read much American humor from the first half of the 20th
century, he probably hasn't enjoyed it. Many of the voices of that
time -- White, Thurber, Perelman, Wodehouse (who spent the greater part of his
life in America) -- possessed a certain wry, ironic, self-deprecating humor
that (it seems) is too delicate for some contemporary readers to perceive,
accustomed as we all are to the bludgeons that have taken the place of
rapiers in most wit today. Why is it some "citizen" getting into the taxi,
and not Joe Schmo? Because in this context "citizen" is not a gentlemanly
designation but a restrained way of saying "asshole." It's humorous
writing, damn it, even if the overall tone of the piece is nostalgic.

-- Leah Edmunds

Jupiter shoots for the moon
BY JANELLE BROWN

(09/02/99)

In your Sept. 2 piece on Jupiter Communications, you incorrectly stated
that Forrester "pays its analysts a bonus every time they are quoted by
the mainstream press." For the record, all Forrester analysts are expected
to meet a number of quarterly performance goals, including such elements
as client interaction, producing reports on time, delivering speeches, and
for new analysts, returning press calls. Forrester analysts are not
compensated "by the quote" nor are they penalized for failing to appear in
the mainstream press. Because of the way the performance goals are set,
it is entirely possible for an analyst to achieve their goals without ever
being
quoted in the press. Moreover, media expectations are usually removed
from an analyst's performance goals once they have demonstrated the
ability to effectively incorporate press calls into their daily routine.

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-- Michael Shirer

Public Relations Manager

Forrester Research Inc.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been corrected.


Briefing for a descent into computer hell

BY STEVE BURGESS

(09/01/99)

Burgess should see the light now. Install Linux, Mr. Burgess.
Install Linux.

-- Steve Winston

There's a one-word cure for the descent into Windows hell: Macintosh. If
Burgess doesn't chuck all his lame "gotta have a Windows machine" excuses and buy one, then he can only conclude he likes living on the edge.

-- Rick Palmer

Stress causes girls?
BY JON BOWEN
(08/31/99)

How stupid. What kind of test was this? Why was it even done?
Little girls in our society may already feel unimportant and less
wanted than boys. What message does this send to our young ladies?

Males already feel superior to females. Thanks for making
them feel it even more.

-- Kimerly A. Hogan


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