Letters to the Editor

Horowitz takes aim at wrong targets, and misfires. Plus: the bizarre world of advertising; do doctors always know best?

Published October 4, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

The myth weavers

Independent of his misreading of the history of the women's movement, the history of
Guatemala and the Middle East, David Horowitz's continued harping on
proven or unproven faults in the history of personalities on the left typically misses the point. Even if every
allegation against these people is true (and this is far from certain,
particularly in regard to Edward Said; see Hitchens in Salon and Said in
the current New York Review of Books), it hardly has anything to do with
the causes they have worked for so conscientiously and tirelessly. His ranting is calculated to deflect attention away from ideas and
re-focus attention on overly concrete details.

-- Robert Lipton

Berkeley, Calif.

David Horowitz diluted an otherwise insightful
critique of the mendacity of Edward Said. Said is not so much a leftist as
he is an anti-Semite; his hatred of the Jews can be quickly ascertained
from a reading of anything he writes, and Horowitz's criticisms would have
been much more telling had he looked at Said's lies from that viewpoint.
It puzzles me, also, that Said would be lumped in with the left wing when
he shares the same hatred of Jews with Adolf Hitler and other notorious
right-wing anti-Semites.

-- Tom Crawford


It would behoove David Horowitz to read Christopher Hitchens' acute
evisceration of Justus Weiner's claims, published in the September 20
issue of the Nation. Edward Said emerges from this inquisitive, fact-laden
column not only intact but fully vindicated, and Weiner is
unmasked as the truth-be-damned ideologue that he is. By relying solely
on Weiner's screeds for his "evidence," Horowitz implicates himself in
this messy and libelous affair.

The richer irony is that, in the course of asking whether a "failure of their [liberal] ideology forced
them to fictionalize," the question begging to be asked is whether it is
a failure of conservative ideology that has forced Horowitz himself to
resort to these juvenile ad hominem attacks.

-- Bruce Thompson

Santa Fe, N.M.

I appreciate David Horowitz's article about the lies that leftists like
Menchu, Friedan and Said tell to promote themselves to the guilt-ridden and
gullible left. I have read Justus Weiner's article exposing Edward Said's true background and
found it to be an excellent and well documented piece of research. It seems
completely true that Edward Said has lied about his life and has used his
lies to further his own fame, wealth and political cause.
I don't know what else can be done about these false icons but to expose them
at every turn -- but at the very least, this must always be done.

-- Stuart Scheer

New York

The return of the hidden persuaders


Ruth Shalit's series is
the most brilliant -- and stomach-churning -- work you've ever published.
When I was a grad student in the '80s, I was all ready to jump on the
semiotics bandwagon. But look what it has led to: better ways to sell
soap! If Roland Barthes could rise from his grave, he would shit all
over these people. Thank you for giving us insight into this bizarre world!

-- Jim Philips

What a surprise. The hypnotist (I'm trying to make a buck) stroking
the ego of the corporate executive -- make that the forward-seeing executive --
claims that (untold) profits can be increased by regressing the consumer
(in 30 seconds) thought process to simpler times (using my proven method, not that other psychoanalyst's).

Well, my first memory of a gas station had to do with a (cute, fluffy)
corporate-icon tiger. It was warm and cozy (in my mother's womb) inside
the car when we pulled up to the gas station on that cold, cloudy day. I remember
the (full-service) attendant filling the gas tank and checking the engine.
Then (oh, the wait was worth it) I got what I really wanted -- the special
prize given (free) for filling the tank. The attendant brought out a "Jungle
Book" pop-up book for me. Oh the happiness! (Mental note: When I'm old enough
to drive, always buy gas from this company.)

Fast forward some 20 years later. That same gas company has just
destroyed the ecology of Prince William Sound. Ten years later, said company is still
filing legal briefs to delay the full settlement it agreed to pay.

Sorry, I won't buy it. No amount of consumer research, psychological or
otherwise, will ever compensate for the harsh realities of real life when
weighed against imprinted memories -- no matter how much these hucksters
charge. ($60,000! No wonder my preferred brand of yogurt is so fucking

-- Marc Plaisant


Ruth Shalit's article shows us that all the informed rhetoric marketers toss
around has less to do with effective selling and more with justifying
people's positions and salaries. If you represent DaimlerChrysler, are you
going to direct $100 million of your hard-earned cash at a rumpus room full
of tattooed 25-year-olds riveted to the screens of their blue and white
Power Macs or a handful of suit-wearers who use words like semiotics in
conversation? Never mind that the actual grunt work of putting DC's ad
campaign before America and the world will actually be done in the rumpus

As a casual follower of the auto industry, I can assure you that there's
more, and less, to the Chrysler PT Cruiser story than the self-serving
quotes those agency folks told Shalit. Retro styling and marketing has been
a long-running story line in the auto industry, going back to the recycling
of old auto names to describe new unrelated models; Mercury's Cougar, for
example, started out as a '60s pony car and ended up as a line of sedans and
station wagons before finally getting back to its roots last year. The PT
Cruiser's styling, especially the front clip, is based in part on its
predecessor, the Plymouth Prowler hot rod (DC sells about 3,000 copies
of it annually).

The PT Cruiser is simply a more affordable iteration that also capitalizes
on the sport utility trend and will be classified as a truck -- despite the
fact it's built out of the Neon parts catalog -- so that DC can sell more
Jeeps under the federal fuel-economy statutes. It was built as a show car
and got the green light for production mainly because people who saw it in
car shows began waving checkbooks at DC. Common sense tells me that you
don't have to market real hard to people who are standing in your store with
$100 bills sticking out of every orifice.

The Prowler originated in almost the same way -- a show car that people
demanded Chrysler build. Just to show how little these folks actually know,
the Prowler was supposed to put a fresh shine on the Plymouth brand;
industry scuttlebutt now tells us the Plymouth brand will cease to exist
after 2001, which is why the PT Cruiser was not built under its original
moniker, the Plymouth Cruiser.

-- Francis Volpe

Carlisle, Pa.

The Artist you better not call Prince



Prince is only one of a list of juvenile "artists" that includes Elton
John and Billy Joel (who wisely, is getting out of the business -- we don't
want him to lose any more money). I say juvenile because after the age of
about 25 you're supposed to show some maturity and common sense. You're not
supposed to fuck up your millions earned. You're not supposed to throw
hissy fits against record labels.

I have lost respect for Prince. I'm no longer a fan and probably will not
buy any more records. He's got a lot of explaining to do; he's alienated
those who have grown up with him. Maybe his appeal is with the younger
youthful generation upcoming who think all his temper tantrums and vanities
are cool.

-- Li Wright


The worried well

Monday's article is yet another example
of the paternalistic doctor-knows-best attitude still prevalent in our
medical community. It is this very type of commentary that has led to
the reluctance of patients to question physicians, led to delayed
diagnoses, to ignorance of alternative treatments and to unnecessary surgery.

He states, "When I was in medical school, we were taught that the
majority of medical office visits were for reassurance of the 'worried
well.'" When was he in medical school, the 1950s? A time when women
were considered hysterical and silly, mental illnesses disgraceful, the
physician a godlike being and the medical community not held liable for
negligence and outright misdemeanor?

The wealth of information available to patients has finally put the
power in their hands -- the power to question, the power to seek
alternative forms of treatment and the power to understand diagnoses and
probable outcomes. I suggest it is this power that makes physicians
uncomfortable, not the hypochondria of a single acquaintance who is surely the exception rather than the

Given the current 10-minute appointment allotted by HMOs and for-profit
medical corporations, if patients do not take the initiative to research
illnesses and treatments, the choices left open to them will be limited
and the chance of misdiagnosis increase. New treatment options are
becoming available at an amazing rate, yet are often not on an insurer's
"approved" list and therefore not discussed and/or offered to the patient.

Most of us know people who took a complaint to a doctor only to be told
"it's all in your head," later to find out that the problem indeed
existed. Had the patients pushed their cases, sought out more empathic
physicians or done their own research months of discomfort, and in some
cases even death, could have been avoided.

My own experience bears this out. Several years ago I began having
symptoms of extreme fatigue and weight gain. I was sleeping 12-20 hours
a day and had gained 40 pounds in three months. The first doctor I saw
was able enough and ran a few tests, but wouldn't return my phone calls
and was only available for appointments with three or four weeks' notice. As you
can imagine, my career was in jeopardy; I couldn't wait that long. The
second physician I went to (a young male) spent five minutes with me and
proceeded to lecture me about eating habits! Finally, a third physician
took a good look at my record and proposed that a medication I was
currently taking might be the culprit, even though I'd been taking it
for over a year. My symptoms were rare, but not unheard of, side
effects for this particular medication. We reduced my dosage to see if
that would help and -- hallelujah! -- problem solved. Had I not been
persistent, the result might have been much different.

I now research every medication I'm given in the Physician's Desk
Reference and am an active participant in my own medical care. If a
doctor will not spend the time to get to know me and to discuss
treatments and medications with me, I will go elsewhere. I deserve
respect and to be treated as an intelligent adult, not an ignorant
child. After all, I have the power over decisions affecting my body.

-- S. Swayze

Albuquerque, N.M.

"Total Memory Workout"

As a nurse who works daily with patients suffering from ALS, I was appalled
to read the first paragraph of Steve Burgess' review of 'Total Memory Workout'.
His offhand comment about a fatal disease demonstrated a complete lack of
compassion and class. Granted, ALS does not affect as many people as
Alzheimer's disease, but it should notbe relegated to the
"I'll think about it if it affects me" category. ALS remains an always fatal
disease, and increasing awareness is the only hope we have of
getting the funding for much-needed research into it.
With his comments, Mr. Burgess dismissed with a casual wave of his literary
hand all of the hardship endured by people suffering with this disease, as
well as all of the hard work by those who are doing
everything in their power to increase awareness of ALS.

Fear of memory loss is rampant among baby boomers. Yet if you were to ask
those same people if they feared equally losing all motor control, their
ability to eat and speak, and eventually the ability to breathe, I suspect
that you would find the same level of fear. ALS strikes every bit as
randomly as Alzheimer's disease. Shame on you for displaying such ignorance
in a column dedicated to health information.

-- Peg Merriman, R.N., B.S.N.

Clinical Coordinator

Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's ALS Clinic


Is cyberpunk still breathing?


I'm just getting around to commenting on Andrew
Leonard's review of my novel "Mir" (Simon & Schuster, 1998),
along with his diatribe on Scott T. Grusky's novel "Silicon Sunset" in the
same article. Leonard's piece was entitled "Is Cyberpunk Still Breathing?"
("Two new science-fiction novels take a stab at an increasingly moribund
genre"), and it was filled with a lot of officious remarks about cyberpunk
being dead. He noted that "Once every couple of years a promising newcomer
like Ian McDonald makes noise with a book like 'Terminal Cafe,' or an old
fogey like William Gibson returns to form with an offering like 'Idoru.' But as a
genre, cyberpunk is washed up, as outmoded as a 1980s hard drive."

Like Grusky, who responded to Leonard's cant in a more timely fashion, I'm perplexed as to why Leonard lumps
my work with the cyberpunk genre that obviously obsesses him.

None of my novels -- "Rim" (HarperCollins, '93), "Mir" or the recently published "Chi" (Simon & Schuster, July '99) -- have ever
passed themselves off as being "cyberpunk." You won't find the word
"cyberpunk" mentioned in any of the books' jacket copy or publicity
materials, which authors don't write themselves anyway.

Cyberfuture, yes. Cyberpunk? No. That's Leonard's personal phobia.
Grusky quite rightly objected to this factual error in his letter to
Salon: "Some may say that the cyberspace vs. cyberpunk distinction is
trivial, and I for one have nothing against cyberpunk. But given the fact
that Andrew lambastes lazy writing so viciously in his review, I maintain he
should not engage in it himself."

Leonard's response to this mild slap on the wrist was to abjectly
backpedal himself with an apology: "I was wrong to say that the book
'self-consciously' describes itself as cyberpunk. I mixed my
misunderstanding of what he said with my interpretation of the book's
self-description in a sloppy manner, and I truly regret the error."

It's ironic that barely two months after Leonard decisively "buried"
cyberpunk in his op-ed piece that he was prostrating himself at the feet of
novelist Pat Cadigan ("The Return of the Queen of Cyberpunk," Salon,
11/18/98) with all kinds of slavish personal observations: "Pat Cadigan
still swaggers -- just like you'd hope a cyberpunk legend would. She's the
kind of person who looks like she's wearing a leather jacket even when she
isn't -- who you don't want to rile, but would love to party with."

All this purple prose gushes into the heart of the kind of "People" magazine
glitz that really seems to fascinate Leonard : "Over dinner at a sushi
restaurant in Berkeley, [Cadigan] recounted the moment when 'The X-Files'
Gillian Anderson, hosting a BBC TV show, introduced a new segment by looking
dramatically at the camera and announcing, 'And now, the queen of science
fiction, Pat Cadigan.'"

Hey, Leonard, party on, dude! You may not remember this, but we once
sat opposite each other at dinner in a Chinese restaurant in
San Francisco. This was back in your bot days. Are the bots still with you?

OK, Leonard wrote his review in September 1998 -- that's ancient history in
the world of the Internet and cyberspace - but here is, for want of a better
term, a "timely" observation about Leonard's self-righteous rant about
science fiction writers who rifle dated items from their e-mail and
incorporate them into their writing about the future.

For some reason, Leonard was really riled that I happened to mention the Web
infomeister Craig Newmark in my novel 'Mir.' Strangely enough for a book
review, he devoted an entire paragraph to pointing out how passi this
reference was: "The fancy that 'Craig's list' (which is now, by the way,
technically known as 'The List Foundation') is still going strong in the
year 2036 is an astonishingly lazy inside joke. It's also a nice metaphor
for how contemporary science-fiction cyberpunk authors can't escape the
confines of their own e-mail in-box."

Check your own e-mail, Leonard. Get hip. The List Foundation is now
called "Craig's List" again. Am I omniscient or what?

By the way, Leonard, you really were unkind to pick on poor Craig. In
"Mir," which I wrote back in 1997, I mentioned Craig purely as a kudos to all
the great work he's been doing. That wasn't being trendy on my part, it was
simply acknowledging a selfless pioneer. The current issue of Time
magazine ("Getrich.com," 9/22/99) bears that out with a terrific feature on
this wonderful man. I predict that Craig Newmark will be around a lot
longer than you will.

-- Alexander Besher

San Francisco

By Letters to the Editor

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