Letters

Hey, with the customary cultural resentment in this country, NYC's bookshops closing down, and The Village Voice cutting down on book reviews, we're getting our balls chopped off enough.

Avital Ronell
Professor, German Studies, English, and Comparative Literature

New York University

Joshua Clover replies: Jane DeLynn's legit disagreement doesn't want me to have preferences, but at least she noticed I like theory. I am thrilled to talk life-or-death with geniuses like Ronell, but I never declared theory dead. From Agamben to Zizek, theory lives; it can't die any more than "praxis." I'm not the one who dedicated the book "To the memory of an era" with dates like one finds in a cemetery. What passed away is the era, in many ways magnificent, when Semiotext(e) stood in place of all radical theory.


JOVENES DEL BARRIO

Adrienne Day's article "The Bomb My Nation Has Become" [February 19], about Colombia's DJ culture, was a nice surprise. It reminded me of several other jewels in Colombia's underground scene, like the Flies (which was Bogotá's best club until it was forced to close its doors back in 2000), "Bomba de Tiempo" (the most successful hip-hop project, straight from the streets of Cali), and "DiosHaMuerto" (God-has-died, an electronic down-tempo project with lyrics about poverty, violence, and social change).

Camilo Florez
Manhattan


MONEY TALKS

After reading "Enron's Phantom Stock" [Mondo Washington, February 12], it's clear that James Ridgeway has no idea what 401(k) plans are or how they work. Thus he really has no idea what he's talking about when he attempts to describe President Bush's private retirement reform proposals and Ohio Republican congressman John Boehner's Retirement Security Act.

First, Ridgeway claims companies are touting 401(k)'s as "modish new" pensions to get rid of more expensive standard plans. Wrong. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), some 100,000 pensions were terminated in the 1980s, mostly by companies that went broke. Many of these plans were underfunded and provided very small benefits. However, EBRI says the number of one type of 401(k), defined contribution plans, grew from 300,000 in 1975 to 700,000 in 1990, and the level has remained constant. Additionally, many companies with pensions also operate 401(k) plans, which benefit more workers, since it usually requires a minimum of 20 years' service to qualify for benefits under a pension plan. How many employees today plan to work for one company for 20 years or more? How many plan to job-hop every few years? Job hoppers get zero benefit from a pension plan but can build up a lot of savings in a 401(k).

Ridgeway also writes that recent proposals to reform the private retirement system "would allow companies to advise the 401(k) administrators on which securities to buy. That means a firm could not only defend itself from hostile takeovers, but mount them by calling for the buying of a competitor's stock." Again, this is incorrect. No administrator buys stock in a 401(k) plan. Rather, participants choose what investment options to purchase. No plan offers individual securities as an investment option other than company stock. A very small number of 401(k) plans have self-directed brokerage windows that allow the purchase of individual equities and bonds, but these are primarily used by sophisticated investors who know what they are doing.

Most companies would have no retirement benefits if they didn't have a 401(k). So which is better, a flawed 401(k) system that gives workers huge tax incentives to save now and forces them to oversee the investments, or just letting the workers save on their own and rely on Social Security and their own assets to fund retirement? If employers were forced to establish and fund pension plans, they would have to reduce compensation (the money must come from someplace, right?). Thus Ridgeway would have another "rip-off" to scream about.

Craig Gunsauley
Managing Editor, Employee Benefit News
Rockville, Maryland

Editor's Note: This week's Mondo Washington column takes an in-depth look at 401(k) plans.


ART OFFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Bravo! Thanks to Jerry Saltz for telling it like it is ["Downward Spiral: The Guggenheim Museum Touches Bottom," February 19]. This museum has lost sight of why arts institutions were founded: to fulfill a mission for the benefit of the public. Instead, Guggenheim administrators assume that because museums today must be managed in a business-like manner, adopting any and all business practices is perfectly OK. The Guggenheim has failed to both fulfill a public mission and run a successful business. It's our loss and an embarrassment to the museum profession.

Jeanne Pond
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


THEATER OF WAR

Re Geoffrey Gray's article "Black HawkDamned" [February 12]: I am currently serving in the U.S. Army and I think this is the best movie I have ever seen. I have friends who were in Somalia when this movie took place, and they tell me BHDis the real thing. As for these protesters, they need to get off their high horses and realize that world peace is an impossible dream. I would like it as much as anyone, but it will never happen—someone is always causing trouble. American soldiers go to foreign countries to help. America gives more money to countries like Somalia in the form of food and financial aid than it does for military actions. We always try the peaceful way first.

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