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(posted Thursday, Aug. 28)

An Affair to Not Remember

In “Adultery and Boredom,” Jacob Weisberg cites a poll in which 85 percent of the respondents said that Mayor Giuliani’s affair would not affect their vote. Another 7 percent said the affair made them less likely to vote for Giuliani. So, are the remaining 8 percent more likely to vote for Giuliani because of his affair? If so, it could mean that male adulterers are now a voting bloc that must be courted!

John RaleySan Francisco

Radical Chic

Paul Berman seems to suggest in “The Refractory Ones” that the case of Timothy McVeigh is somehow analogous to the trial of Sacco-Vanzetti, in that a misunderstood radical faction was descended upon by a bigoted majority that then executed the sacrificial lambs. While the comparison between the modern-day “Patriot movement” to which McVeigh belongs and the turn-of-the-century anarchist movement is worth making, the contrasts, rather than similarities, are what stand out. For starters, there has been no public outcry to ban or do away with the Patriots, as there was with the anarchists. Certainly, there has been no public self-examination to consider the implications of the movement. Rather, the opposite has occurred. The mass media in general have covered the rise of the Patriots only spottily, rushing to report the daily incidents the movement inspires and doing little to examine its sources. When, after the Oklahoma City disaster, President Clinton asked for the nation to deal with the “voices of hate” that inspire the Patriots to action, there was no attempt to actually do so. Rather, every talk-show host on the radio, it seemed, scurried to proclaim his or her innocence: “Not me! I didn’t do it!”

The truth is, there are many of us whose gasoline rhetoric has fueled the Patriots’ bonfires of paranoia. And we still have not stopped throwing it about with glee. Secondly, the Patriot movement is at the opposite end of the political spectrum. With its roots in white supremacy and McCarthyism, the movement really represents the rise of a genuine American-bred fascism–which, as Berman points out, is precisely what the anarchists had organized to combat. I’d wager that Sacco and Vanzetti would be disgusted to be included in the company of McVeigh. Finally, while Sacco and Vanzetti probably were innocent of the murder of a single policeman, McVeigh has practically confessed to killing 168 people and maiming 500 more. And while the families of those victims have generally cheered his route to the executioner, the public at large has been strangely mute on McVeigh’s fate. They seem to have been much more preoccupied with a certain black football player’s murder trial.

Berman’s main point is worth making: Executions exist not for the actual pursuit of justice but rather for wreaking vengeance. However, he should consider the fact that this very mentality–an eye for an eye–is a large part of what drives the Patriot movement, and as McVeigh himself has recently suggested, this is what drove him to fill a Ryder truck with explosives that he then set off. Sacco and Vanzetti may have been sacrificial lambs, but McVeigh appears to be reaping the fruits of his own belief system. It may be a sickening view, but there is something appropriately symmetrical about it.

–David NeiwertSeattle

Poll Position

William Saletan’s comments in “Centrists vs. Progressives” are more definitive than most other observations about patently obvious things in society. But they don’t change the obsession idea-mongers and contemporary media have with polling. As a matter of fact, instead of focusing on polling’s farcical contributions to an enlightened society, he conveys the notion that polling is/would be credible without the manipulations (subtle or otherwise). The universal credibility problem with polling is that wordsmithing and mathematics don’t mix, and never will.

Tom DeLucaUpper Arlington, Ohio

Nothing in Commons

Daniel Akst’s “Passive Aggressive,” on the evils of index investing, threatens to mislead Slate’s audience of successful investors and policy wonks. There is no commons problem in index investing. It is true that markets are efficient because securities research, and that index investors invest without doing research (or paying others to do research). But as more people invest without doing research–i.e., as markets become less efficient–then the returns to research will increase and money will shift away from indexing. In the commons problem, there is no reason not to overgraze if your neighbor is overgrazing as well. In a securities market, if your neighbors overgraze (i.e., engage in index investing at times when the market is relatively inefficient), you can fleece them.

This index-investing question is a subset of what seemed to be a paradox in the efficient-market hypothesis (securities research is both necessary for market efficiency and a waste of money) that was worked out 17 years ago in a paper by Sanford J. Grossman and Joseph E. Stiglitz, “On the Impossibility of Informationally Efficient Markets,” 70 Am. Econ. Rev. 393, 405 (1980), and in more accessible form in a law review article, “Efficient Markets, Costly Information, and Securities Research” 60 NYU L. Rev. 761 (1985).

I bet Paul Krugman would agree.

Jeff GordonColumbia Law SchoolNew York City

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