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Blue conversion
Ex-governors Holshouser and Hunt praise the privatization of Blue Cross Blue Shield [Oct. 9], saying it will result in a splendid charitable institution.

"At no cost to the taxpayer!"

"The only chance we have is if Blue Cross converts."

Color me jaundiced. It is the nature of charitable institutions to serve as stop-gaps when systems fail.

The privatization of Blue Cross Blue Shield is the failure of a remarkable system. The charitable institution that acts as carrot and goad to ratify this failure is pitiable recompense.

Building on the Clinton debacle of health maintenance organizations as "the new messiah," privatization of Blue Cross/Blue Shield is another way to sell our "social contract" for a mess of pottage.

I recall Rebecca West's observation that "Charity is an ugly trick. It is a virtue grown by the rich on the graves of the poor. Unless it is accompanied by sincere revolt against the present social system, it is cheap moral swagger. In former times it was used as fire insurance by the rich, but now that the fear of Hell has gone, it is used either to gild mean lives with nobility or as a political instrument."

Pax on both houses.

ALAN ARCHIBALD, HILLSBOROUGH

Doubt-filled essay
I'm writing this letter in response to Tricia Shore's pathetic excuse for an essay titled "A class, a kiss, and a doubt," [Oct. 23] in which she attempted to soil Tim McLaurin's name and reputation. Tim died of cancer in July. He was a teacher, writer, friend, and family man of the highest caliber. Tricia Shore crossed the line of decency and truth when she wrote "A class, a kiss, and a doubt." I was surprised that The Independent had dipped to the tabloid level by publishing her article. It was a woefully dishonest portrayal of Tim McLaurin, and I am sure The Independent will receive many letters in Tim's defense. To take pot shots at a dead man in a public newspaper is outright divisive and cruel.

Ms. Shore, don't blame Tim McLaurin for your poor writing ability. He was only being charitable when he said you were a good writer. Tim's approach to teaching creative writing was to encourage rather than tear down his students. Tim would also let you know what was wrong with your stories. Ms. Shore took his encouragement and turned it into something ugly.

LISA MORGAN, STUDENT OF TIM MCLAURIN'S

Regarding Trisha Shore's First Person column on her relationship with the late Tim McLaurin [Oct. 23]. I'm sorry Ms. Shore's fiction career went bust, but perhaps it's for the best. Who needs a novel from a writer who lacks the insight to grasp that encouragement from a continuing education instructor is, almost by definition, inflated? As someone who got an invitation to Tim's house in the 1980s by simply attending a book signing, I can say that his generosity was thrown around freely and without obligation. I didn't assume his attention made me special, but unlike others, I don't think of writers as gods or mistake teachers for my father.

CLIFTON P. DOWELL, DURHAM

Same but different
While I am usually a big fan of Jon Elliston, I have to disagree with the parallels he drew between Cuba and Iraq in a column titled "Back from the Brink" [Front Porch, Oct. 16].

Unlike Cuba, which stands 90 miles off the coast of the United States, Iraq sits on the other side of the globe. Unlike Cuba, which actually received nuclear warheads from the Soviet Union, the nuclear threat from Iraq, if they can get the materials they need, and if weapons inspectors prove unsuccessful, has been approximated by most as over a year away.

While students of U.S. relations with Cuba can disagree about the actual threat that Cuba's warheads posed at the time (given the strength of the realpolitik theory of Mutually Assured Destruction), what these two international crises show is that, even when faced with actual nuclear weapons at a stone's throw distance, the United States government during that earlier crisis still favored diplomacy, even if it was "gun-ship" diplomacy.

If anything, the Cuban Missile Crisis proves the madness of the Bush administration's rush to war, and that this current policy is little more than a vehicle to implement their new foreign policy paradigm of pre-emption. Any policy, or world view for that matter, which makes the Cold War, "Dr. Strangelove" shenanigans of the Kennedy administration (with their failed Bay of Pigs mission, Operation Mongoose, and all the psy-ops that Elliston mentioned in his article) look even remotely reasonable by comparison should send a long, deep, collective shudder down all of our spines.

STEPHEN BURZIO, CHAPEL HILL

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