Lighten Up

Why do Peter Brodie and David Benson {Free for All, June 16} assume that people who prefer some standards in language are pedants? Among other things, Free for All offers an opportunity for harmless banter among those who enjoy language and respect its precision. If we disagree, must our motives or our psyches be suspect? If Brodie prefers bare knuckles to such harmless exchanges, let him take on your paper for switching to the "Charles's" possessive form he so disdains, though he would have to take on Fowler, Bernstein and The New York Times Stylebook too.

Brodie's citation of "Jesus' disciples" is an exception noted by Strunk; it does get too sibilant. But that's only a problem if you move your lips when you read. There's still a difference between written and spoken language, and Brodie's pressing need to "get rid of a syllable" is not shared by most newspaper and magazine writers I know. They opt for clarity even at the occasional, wanton cost of an extra "s."

-- A. M. Hattal

Double Standard

Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan bin Talil conveniently forgets history in making his claims on the West Bank {op-ed, June 18}. The West Bank was originally acquired by Jordan through force of arms and held for 19 years, during which period East Jerusalem and the West Bank were closed to Jews. Jordan lost the West Bank when it gambled in 1967 that Israel would be overrun by Egypt and Syria and rejected the pleas by Israel to stay out of the conflict.

Jordan's claims to the West Bank are based on the result of military action. It cannot now assert that similar action by Israel contravenes international law. -- Harold Robinson

Because It's So

I believe Philip W. Markley is confused {Free for All, June 16}. Burma is now referred to as Myanmar in an English-language newspaper because that is its new name.

For a variety of reasons countries change their names. Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) and Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) are two examples.

We do not say Sverige for Sweden or Misr for Egypt because those words aren't in English. This is what Swedes or Egyptians call their countries in their own languages. They have not changed the names of their countries. -- Jean Kaplan Teichroew

A Singular Distinction

As a Liberian, I am appalled by how your paper constantly refers to my country as one that was "founded by freed slaves." Liberians are proud of the courage and fortitude of their founders, but the condition of their former servitude is attributable not to them but to those who sold them and held them in slavery.

The constant reference to slavery carries a negative connotation. You don't refer to Afro Americans as "descendants of freed slaves" or describe West Indians as such. So why do you single out Liberians for this designation? The Liberian press does not refer to Americans as "descendants of slave owners."

-- Robert H. Dennis II

False Impression

The photo with the June 10 article "Exodus of Soviet Jews May Alter Israel's Fate" was another example of why your paper is so often accused of bias against Israel.

Buried in the third-to-last paragraph of Jackson Diehl's sidebar article, "Immigrants' Lifestyle Subsidized," was the fact that less than 10 percent of the Soviet immigrants in Israel live on the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip. Yet the three-column picture you ran showed "Recent Soviet immigrants ... in the Israeli-occupied West Bank town of Ariel."

Why didn't you use a photo taken in the Tel Aviv, Haifa or Jerusalem areas, where, Diehl wrote, more than 90 percent of the Soviet immigrants live?

-- John Weisman

Lost in the Mail

Bruce Maccabee's complaint of inattention by the news media to stories about unidentified flying objects {Free for All, June 16} deserves comment.

About 25 years ago, a Naval Research astrophysicist, writing in Naval Research Reviews, explained that UFOs were the optical characteristics of the interfacial surface tension between gases of different densities, e.g., the exhaust fumes from aircraft at high altitudes, the mirror image of highway oil spots that disappear as you approach, swamp gas, etc. His notation that UFOs occur in the presence of light, sunlight, moonlight and aircraft and sheriffs' headlights lends credence to his conclusions.

Unfortunately the Department of Defense assigned the investigation of UFOs to the Air Force, after the Navy had already published this explanation. The Air Force may not have been on the mailing list for Naval Research Reviews. Nor, it seems, was the Soviet general who was said to be so baffled by his pilots' reports of unidentified flying objects.

-- Thomas J. Seery